The Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) convened for its first council meeting of the Fall 2022 semester on Sept. 14. Led by speaker Adrienne Tessier, the meeting’s agenda covered issues such as McGill’s fossil fuel investments and teaching assistants’ (TA) rights.
The meeting began with an overview of the various PGSS committees, such as faculty councils, the Appointments Board, and the Health and Wellness Committee, all of which are looking for new members this fall. Tessier encouraged graduate students to consider applying as a means of becoming more acquainted with systems of student governance.
“These [committees] are a fantastic opportunity to get to know how PGSS and McGill work,” Tessier said. “They are also fantastic résumé builders, especially for those of us who want to continue on in academia.”
PGSS’s secretary general Kristi Kouchakji updated the Council on the search for McGill’s new Principal and Vice-Chancellor. While Kouchakji—who sits on the Advisory Committee as PGSS’s representative—is bound by a confidentiality agreement, she relayed what she could, noting that community consultation sessions were being held, and that the committee had received a large number of applications.
Subsequently, Kiersten van Vliet, a representative from the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), presented her report on TA and invigilator rights—a topic pertinent to many PGSS members who are beginning their first TA positions this month. Van Vliet encouraged them to reach out for help if they felt that professors were violating their worker rights. She also acknowledged the difficult position TAs may find themselves in with classes returning to full in-person delivery.
“Refusing unsafe work is difficult because the province has deemed [COVID-19] to essentially be over,” van Vliet said. “But if you have reason to believe that you are being asked to go into a situation that is unsafe, you are within your rights to refuse to go into that situation.”
Following van Vliet’s presentation, Tessier presented the council with a motion to endorse the general strike for the climate set to occur worldwide on Friday, Sept. 23. Given the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports warning that the effects of 1.5 degrees of warming are more catastrophic than previously anticipated, Tessier emphasized the importance of larger-scale demonstrations as a means of effecting change in the university and beyond.
“McGill University continues to be actively complicit in climate change through its investments in fossil fuels, nuclear weapons, and arms manufacturers,” Tessier said. “The continuous and conscious inaction of these institutions in spite of the overwhelming and alarming evidence has proven the need to utilize collective action as a means of change.”
After some discussion from committee members, the motion was approved in a unanimous vote of 34-0, signifying that PGSS will be publicly stating their support for the general strike for the climate.
Moment of the Meeting:
The meeting was subject to some slight technical challenges as a result of its hybrid format. Some council members attended in person at Thomson House, while others attended via Zoom, making it difficult to communicate with those who attended in the other medium. Speaker Adrienne Tessier, who attended virtually, poked some fun at the situation, saying “So, unfortunately, I will be the disembodied voice running these meetings. I hope that’s okay with everyone.”
“I don’t see how we get around climate change being the most important issue that we are collectively facing pretty much anywhere [….] There is no more room to deny that climate change is happening or to continue kicking this can down the road for the next generations to deal with. We are, unfortunately, the generation who has had the can kicked at them quite hard.”
— Kristi Kouchakji, PGSS Secretary-General, on the PGSS Motion to endorse the general strike for climate on Sept. 23.