Commentary, Opinion

Point-Counterpoint: McGill’s decision to pause its $50 million French program

McGill must teach Legault a lesson – Liliana Mason 

Following the Quebec government’s Oct. 13 announcement of a tuition hike for out-of-province and international students, the McGill administration announced a pause to its $50 million Rayonnement du Français initiative—set to teach both students, faculty and staff French and help them “integrate more fully into Quebec society.”

In doubling tuition fees for out-of-province students studying in Quebec, Legault’s provincial government has ostensibly launched an attack against anglophone universities, with the tuition hike’s implications targeting McGill and Concordia in particular. With over 22 per cent of McGill’s undergraduate students coming from out of province, the increase will drastically impact the university.

Legault has yet to produce any well-informed, comprehensive policies to address the supposed threat to the French language in Quebec. Instead, he continues to attack anglophone institutions, such as McGill, Concordia, and Bishop’s, and enact harmful, racially-exclusive legislation such as Bill 96, that specifically targets immigrants by requiring Quebecers to demonstrate ‘historic anglo’ status in order to receive public services—including healthcare—in English.

McGill’s choice to temporarily halt the Rayonnement du Français initiative conveys the perfect ‘fuck you’ to Legault, showing that the university will not succumb to his asinine attempts to promote French education. The transparent targeting of anglophone universities will not go unnoticed or unchallenged. If the government will not support universities, why should universities promote government policies?

Moreover, in his announcement of the decision to pause the initiative, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini emphasized that it was not cancelled, just postponed. Currently, there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding how the tuition change will affect students and the university financially. In an email sent out on Nov. 2, Saini revealed some of the major changes that McGill would likely face as a result of the tuition hike, including a drop in enrollment and annual revenue, a pause on planned infrastructure projects, and the suspension of certain varsity teams, among other things. 

In halting the Rayonnement du Français program, McGill is both reinforcing the insensibility of Legault’s decision and reserving funds that can and should be used to mitigate the effects of the tuition hike on students. 

Retaliation is not the way to go – Chloé

If doubling tuition fees for out-of-province students was a low blow from the Quebec government, McGill’s response of pausing its French program does not fly much higher. And as is often the case, students are the first victims of institutional decisions made by high-level executives who are disconnected from reality. 

Minister of French Language Jean-François Roberge’s claim that out-of-province students studying in anglophone universities have an anglicizing effect on Montreal is nothing but a false narrative—and McGill has the responsibility to fight it. 

McGill’s identity as an anglophone institution in a predominantly French-speaking province is precisely what attracts students to choose it. Many out-of-province students enter McGill with a strong background in studying French, looking to build on these foundations in a bilingual environment. Attempts to respond to the government’s decision of doubling tuition does not justify McGill abandoning the efforts of its students, faculty and staff to foster their French skills.  

Initiatives like the Rayonnement du Français program are also essential to shatter McGill’s image as an “anglophone bubble”. According to data from the McGill University Student Demographic Survey, 47 per cent of students who responded reported being “very good” or “excellent” at reading French, 49 per cent at understanding spoken French; 33 per cent  at writing French, and 38 per cent at speaking it. 

By suspending its French program, McGill aligns itself with the Quebec government’s divisive discourse of determining who has the opportunity to learn French. If McGill and other anglophone institutions respond by restricting access to language learning, the ability to speak French may eventually be confined to those who already possess that knowledge.

McGill needs to continue its French program, for its students, faculty and staff, and as an act of resistance against Quebec’s exclusionary language policies. Quebec does not have a monopoly on speaking French, nor on teaching it. Anglophone universities in the province not only have the means and power to teach French, but a responsibility to do so. As a university, McGill’s first and foremost goal is to educate, and nothing—especially not politics—justifies any decision that goes against this.

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