Volume 29 - Number 14 - Thursday, April 10, 1997

Principal's office occupied

by Eric Smith

A three-day occupation of Principal Shapiro's office by students ended last Friday afternoon without incident.

Twenty students interrupted Shapiro at his desk early on Wednesday morning, presented him with a list of demands and declined to leave. The demands called for the withdrawal of proposed administrative and academic charges totalling $255 per student for next year. They also asked for greater student representation on Senate, the Board of Governors, and various University committees. And they protested the increased additional-session fees for graduate students.

The University declined to engage in any negotiation with the protesters. Dean of Students Rosalie Jukier met with the students twice; on Wednesday morning "to explain the violations of the student code of conduct," and again on Thursday, along with Vice-Principal (Academic) Bill Chan. According to Jukier, "We made an offer of a meeting between the Principal, Vice-Principal Chan, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Phyllis Heaphy, and me with representatives of PGSS and SSMU, but conditional on the students leaving the building."

Added Jukier, "I conveyed a message from the principal that, while he is always willing to talk to students, there can be no negotiation while his office is being occupied."

According to protester Mike Toye, students inside the Principal's office held a meeting to discuss the offer. "We agreed to the meeting on three conditions, that it be chaired by Estelle Hopmeyer, McGill's ombudsman, that it include representatives from the community, from MAUT, faculty, MUNASA and MUNACA, and that it be open to all students and media." The University declined.

According to Principal Shapiro, "While I'm not interested in engaging in a public debate with people who are occupying my office, I do understand their concerns and will try to think them through. The problem is how we'll manage the giant drop in revenue imposed by the government. But their concerns are real and not unimportant."

Toye said the occupation was intended "to raise awareness of the direction the administration is taking."

He argued that the University's recent efforts to generate new revenue are "small steps towards privatization." Added Toye, "I haven't seen any active lobbying by the University for an increase in grants."

According to Vice-Principal Heaphy, "Lobbying for better public funding of the universities is something we are doing continually and forcefully, while encountering the stone wall of the government's desire to balance its budget overall."

Approximately half the demonstrators remained by the time the occupation was called off Friday at noon. They left the building peacefully, escorted by McGill security.

There was no damage done to the office during the occupation. According to Toye, "We were as respectful as possible with the office and the furnishings." Said Shapiro, "They left the office in at least as good a condition as they found it."

So far, Jukier says, "No disciplinary action has been taken against the students."

The occupation of the Principal's office was the eleventh across Canada, according to Toye. Over the course of the week there were several other protest actions taken by McGill students, including a panhandling demonstration in the Leacock Building on Monday, an attempt to jam the fax machines of several members of the Board of Governors, and a student demonstration with supporters marching from the Roddick Gates to the occupied office on Wednesday.

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