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Quebec protests are hurting McGill

Prospective students worry about disruptions


 

A 2012 Quebec protest (Alexis Gravel/Flickr)

Almost a year ago, I was a prospective student touring McGill University for the first time. I remember the excitement, the nerves and the shock of seeing more than 100 people protesting on campus. For the dozen or so students on my tour, it was our first impression of McGill and, to be honest, it was a bit of a deterrent.

I recall a parent on the tour asking how disruptive the protestors were for classes. It was a serious concern of his and many others. Of course, we were assured that it was not disruptive at all and that the protests had very little to do with McGill. That alleviated the concern in my mind, but I’m sure that it was not the case for others.

In the past few months, I’ve been receiving emails from friends back home in Vancouver who are currently in their graduating year of high school and are now attempting to navigate the confusion of choosing a university. While I’ve gotten the classic questions—“How are the professors?” and “What’s the nightlife like?”—the one theme that keeps coming up is Quebec’s student movement. My friends’ concerns include not only how protests affect classes, but whether they are violent or too intense. I have assured everyone asking these questions that the protests are not an issue; they stay out of McGill’s way, they are not violent and they do not affect the classrooms.

Despite my assurances, many still expressed doubt and declared it would still be a consideration in their decisions. These kinds of questions show a consistent perspective that protests are a major deterrent and one that seriously influences students’ choices of schools.

In the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings of 2013, McGill has been ranked in 31st place—a serious drop from last year’s 25th place. These rankings are subjective, but they seem to accurately show the international opinion of a university’s reputation. Reputation is a serious factor—not only for decisions of attendance, but also job prospects for McGill graduates. If McGill’s reputation continues to fall, the consequences could be serious. Such a fall calls into question what, precisely, led to this slip in rankings and what we can do to help fix it and repair McGill’s reputation.

The continued concerns of potential students may be indicative of this issue. Universities, in part, gain their reputation from the amount of demand from students. If students no longer choose McGill, and would rather attend a university of lower ranking to avoid the complications of protests, it would be surprising for McGill not to experience a fall in rankings. Students are key for a university to prosper and when they choose other institutions it becomes an issue the school must address.

Certainly, the protests have a cause. They are not senseless. The unfortunate reality, however, is that these protests are hindering rather than helping McGill’s situation in the long run. A fall in rankings because of protests can lead to lower interest in enrollment at McGill. This decrease will lead to an even larger fall in rankings, and even less money and resources for McGill and other universities—the precise issue many are currently protesting.

It becomes a vicious cycle that should be stopped sooner rather than later. The protests do combat real issues, but in order to help fix the situation, there needs to be a more cooperative way to help repair it. The protests are simply causing more damage than they’re worth.

Victoria Dillman is in year one of English Literature. A version of this appeared in the McGill Tribune.


 

Quebec protests are hurting McGill

  1. As a fellow first year out-of-province student at McGill, it really disappoints me to see such a shallow understanding of the issues at hand. The Quebec Student movement has been dynamic and complex and its coverage in mainstream media (especially anglophone media) has been deplorable. Constant conversations about violence on the part of students, with little to no mention of the police brutality that has affected many of the students (both “violent” and “peaceful”), have sensationalized the issues and taken away attention from the reasons that the movement started. Those reasons include ACCESSIBLE education, education available regardless of one’s socioeconomic status. It is easy to dismiss the complaints of Quebec students because they have the lowest tuition in the country, however actual attention paid to statistics and the reality of European education systems shows that there are many favorable alternatives to the current system. In many ways, though the student movement has not by any means ended, there have already been great gains including the abolition of law 78 and the temporary tuition freeze (until the PQ created a new hike.) With the hundreds of arbitrary arrests under municipal bylaw P-6 now, the student movement has shown that there are deeper issues than just unfair access to higher education plaguing Quebec, and this has a value much higher than any arbitrary ranking list.

    • Thank you. At least I was not the only one who felt that way. The article comes across as superficial and very snobbish. Can the author at least provide her readers more information as to WHY there are protesters? There seems to be very little research done for this piece, seeing that there is no relation of McGill’s lower ranking this year to last-years protest movement.

      • I understand your point, but you also have to realize that this was a short opinion editorial written for the McGill Tribune. There has been extensive coverage of the protests in McGill and Montreal, and that was not the purpose of this piece (nor did the author have space to cover all of the relevant information and other opinions regarding the protests). You may not agree with her, but she accurately explained the feelings of many students and parents who visit McGill every year.

    • Well said. its amazing that we are many to feel the same way. this may sound a but un – sincere for an article. With a little bit more sources stated and such to explain why some even join the protest it would be best. I see some research done but a bit more would be best. but i do understand the point about the McGill Tribune though. And theres is enough coverage on Montreal tv allread. Cheers!

  2. And then you’ve got girls in Afghanistan who risk their lives just to make it to universities to learn.

    You are calling the protests a deterrent? Then go somewhere else, I guess. As an out-of-province student, do you understand the investment the province of Quebec makes just on you? Total investment per student in Quebec is close to $30k. Subtract your tuition from that, and that’s what the province is investing in you.

    And everyone else. At every university. You need to understand that McGill is just one of many Quebec universities. Just because you want McGill to maintain its status doesn’t mean one can do so at he expense of others. This article is borderline snobbish in how the author wants to preserve how great of a school it is.

    It IS a great school. It’s big babies from the ROC who are deterred by the occasional crowd of people from coming here. Seriously. Girls in Afghanistan.

    If you want to come to McGill, if you want a great degree, and if you want to live in the best city in the country (you heard me, Toronto) then come on over. But don’t gripe about the social attitudes. The people of Quebec are what pay for your education, and they’re fighting to make sure its accessible to all. Either deal with that, or just go to Toronto or something.

  3. There are couple of others thing in this article that’re just a little bit funky.
    First off, there’s this claim: “In the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings of 2013, McGill has been ranked in 31st place—a serious drop from last year’s 25th place. These rankings are subjective, but they seem to accurately show the international opinion of a university’s reputation.” [i.e. a drop in reputation].
    But the inference is not valid. It could well be that McGill’s reputation is (likely) the same as it was, or even (possibly) better than it was, but that the reputation of other places (especially the new universities in Asia) have improved so much, that McGill’s RELATIVE reputation, not ABSOLUTE reputation, has declined. i.e there can be more good in the world in total while the good at McGill stays the same and there is a relative drop in McGill’s ranking in this reputational survey of academics. Education is not like sports: everyone can be a winner.
    Then there’s this claim: “The unfortunate reality, however, is that these protests are hindering rather than helping McGill’s situation in the long run. A fall in rankings because of protests can lead to lower interest in enrollment at McGill. This decrease will lead to an even larger fall in rankings, and even less money and resources for McGill and other universities—the precise issue many are currently protesting.”
    But there is no coherence to this claim at all. It is absolutely bogus to claim that McGill will ever have any trouble recruiting students. Demand for McGill is always very high. And seeing as McGill can always fill its quota of incoming students, there is no resource differential at all. Most of the money at McGill comes from the governments (federal and provincial), some from endowment, some from donors, and some from private sources (i.e. research funding), and some from tuition fees. None of that is in any way affected by a drop in the rankings on a reputational survey.
    Anyway, this seems like a good “teachable moment” for how to read reputational rankings and what a legitimate inference from them is. Someone call the university: this author needs an education!!!

  4. Finally, I forgot one of the most important thing:
    There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of any causal relationships between last year’s student movement in Quebec and the drop in the rankings of McGill on the reputational survey! I also think any claim of a causal relationship is highly dubious. The whole argument is constructed on a seriously faulty implied premise!

  5. Victoria, you are completely wrong.

    You may read too much National Post, Toronto Sun, Globe and Mail, The Gazette (repeating the same information as the three last) and – even MacLeans – and not enough Le Devoir and La Presse to really understand the issue without the veil of ignorance that English speaking medias put on you.

    Indeed, the protesters want either the elimination of tuition fees (gratuité scolaire) or a tuition freeze. The last Quebec Government (QLP) want to increase tuition fees by 75% in 5 years and the current Government (PQ) increased the tuition fees by 75% in 15 years. In both cases, it is more than the inflation. This was the central issue you don’t talk at all in your article. The QLP did it because they are corrupted, the PQ does it as part of an austerity plan. Both neoliberal parties don’t give a shit about students. The only parties to defend education (QS and ON) are currently marginal, so the struggle continues.

    The worst is about the QLP: they literally let the conflict degenerate in order to get a chance to win the last election by being able to present themselves as the representatives of law and order and opposition parties as accomplices of little bandits. Police injured 41 people by shooting plastic bullets and throwing flash bombs, mass arrested 3000+ protesters and have to suffer years of prosecution. On the other hand, 3-4 police officers suffered minor injuries and none was prosecuted for any case of brutality because police investigate on police and protect themselves. They also protect the government by canceling any investigation that would lead to elected officials. To sum up, there is a soft political police in Quebec.

    Of course, you won’t have realized that. Ask yourself what hurts the most.

  6. The criticism of this article seems a bit harsh…all this author is doing is expressing an alternative point of view. Perhaps the protests don’t directly affect ranking criteria, but she has a point in noting that it may deter out-of-province and international students (as an international student at McGill, I had the same apprehension when visiting for the first time, so I understand the sentiment). She may not be addressing which harm is more detrimental, but that wasn’t the goal of the article. I think she raises an interesting question about the side effects of protests, and she addresses the fact that the demonstrations aren’t without cause.

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