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OPINION: An open letter from a faculty member to the MSU: sense and “censure-bility” The MSU should ensure that proper procedural practices are put in place and followed when making decisions

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Photo C/O Kyle West

By Anonymous, Contributor

As a non-Chinese faculty member, I have been following events unraveling around the Student Representative Assembly’s decision to de-ratify the McMaster Chinese Students and Scholars Association. As an associate chair of my department, I interact with undergraduate students on a daily basis, which is why I was troubled to hear about how the Student Representative Assembly proceeded with the de-ratification of a student-run group on campus. Recent reports reveal that SRA representatives believed that they had placed Mac CSSA on probation for six months, while the group itself was not notified. Furthermore, Mac CSSA was de-ratified during a meeting on Sept. 22 for which the club was not given due notice. 

From reading the SRA meeting minutes and watching live streams of the SRA proceedings, I was struck by the unanimity of it all. Many questions were raised but not discussed and many comments were made but not challenged. Some SRA members even mentioned the absence of Mac CSSA or any rebuttal document at the final de-ratification meeting. Yet, no one in that room tried to table the motion to de-ratify Mac CSSA. What would have changed if the proceedings had been delayed to allow for a chat with the Equity and Inclusion Office, to consult a lawyer and, at the very least, to allow CSSA members to attend the de-ratification meeting? By not properly engaging with opposing voices in the SRA chamber, the rush to judgement that occurred with the de-ratification of Mac CSSA seems to have emerged from a groupthink mentality. 

Given my experience as an equity-seeking person myself, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, watching this unfold has made me extremely emotional. By speaking with one voice, rushing to judgement and bypassing the regular procedures, the SRA’s actions threatened not a single group on campus, but the entire institution. This type of prosecution, though clearly not at the same level of magnitude, has shades of the Lavender Scare or even McCarthyism. In those times, as the guilt of the accused was decided prior to the public accusation, any irregular process to convict them was sufficient. Never mind that once accused, there was no chance of defense. Only after the Sept. 22 de-ratification and after Mac CSSA had initiated an appeal process themselves did the SRA give Mac CSSA a chance to answer questions regarding the allegations put forward to de-ratify them. The evidence presented by Mac CSSA in their appeal was dismissed and the SRA denied their appeal.

I’m not defending the actions of Mac CSSA and I’m not even saying that the MSU is wrong to censure a club. But I strongly believe that the cornerstones of our democracy are the right to a fair trial, the right to defend oneself and the right to be presumed innocent. In a fair system, if your arguments are valid, your evidence is sound and your process is unbiased, there is no reason to fear the presence of the accused. Particularly when dealing with an equity-seeking group, it is imperative to ensure that all the necessary steps of a process have been taken with care so there is no questions about the outcome. Even if the outcome may not be different, a fair and transparent procedure is necessary. The process is what protects our values. It is what protects us from fear-mongering, from undue influences and partisanship. 

Joshua Marando has admitted that he made such mistakes with regards to CSSA “not being informed at the meeting” as well as the miscommunication of the “initial probation”. While he referred to them as “big oversights,” they were downplayed as “not intentional by any means,” implying to me that even a compromised process can be justified.

The SRA should not be allowed to get away with this. When we compromise procedural justice, even the most righteous of intentions can lead to significant unintended consequences. In this case, the irresponsible management of Mac CSSA’s de-ratification has had profound consequences. Due to my position as an associate chair, I interact with many Chinese undergraduates, graduate students, staff and faculty colleagues, all with varying views. This incident has led to the alienation of a large group of people who may have differing political views, but who are still important members of the McMaster community. 

As a student government body that represents people with diverse backgrounds, it is critical for the MSU to maintain an impartial political stance, and treat everyone equally and fairly, which includes international students. The MSU should not forget that Mac CSSA is a club of their own fellow students. They are not some nameless and faceless foreign government entity that some SRA members may have implied in the height of their groupthink euphoria. 

The Mac CSSA de-ratification reveals the kind of power the SRA has — in terms of club de-ratification, they are able to act as witnesses, judge, jury and executioner in a decision-making process. It must be made clear to them that such power comes with the trust of the McMaster community, which should be used to strive for equality and inclusivity, instead of dividing the campus by abusing it. 

This should really be a wake-up call for the MSU that undue procedures can be a slippery slope that you cannot come back from. The step to de-ratify a club that consists of fellow students is a serious one and deserves thoughtful action. With that being said, this Mac CSSA-gate fiasco could provide an opportunity to establish precedents and norms to prevent it from happening again, similar to the development of the Miranda rights for people accused of criminal actions. 

The MSU should really reflect on why they were so quick to compromise their own processes — what was their justification and what would have been the harm of following the correct procedures? The MSU should take measures to counteract groupthink by assigning a devil’s advocate or equity champion, by consulting a specialist before making a decision, by involving third-party members to get impartial opinions or by setting up a rule that the leadership should be absent from discussion to avoid overly influencing decisions. 

The MSU should also be aware of the systematic barriers and implicit biases that may have played a role in their flawed procedures. They have an obligation to reach out to the less privileged groups of students to help them be a part of the community, to have a voice at the table, to communicate and connect and to be valued. 

As David Farr, acting president of McMaster, recently said, “Equity, diversity, and inclusion are critical to our academic mission and vital for innovation and excellence.”

The MSU should play a leading role in that mission, rather than acting against it.

 

 

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