Feb 4, 2014

Equity policy could face revision following “Farnan-gate” backlash

Councillors express concern regarding lack of transparency, ability to revise recommendations

Jessica Fu

Equity policy could face revision following “Farnan-gate” backlash
(Wendy Chen / McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Equity Policy will undergo review in the upcoming weeks, following concerns regarding the processing of a complaint against Vice-President Internal Brian Farnan filed in October last year.

The issue arose after councillors raised concerns regarding the stages of the policy that led to Farnan’s Jan. 27 public apology in response to allegations of racial insensitivity. The apology has received widespread attention, much of it critical.

“The reaction on social media has been overwhelmingly negative, anyone who suggests otherwise is in denial,” said Arts representative Benjamin Reedijk.

On Oct. 17, Farnan sent out a weekly SSMU listerv that included a link to a .gif file of United States President Barack Obama kicking down a door, originally a clip that was manipulated and aired by The Tonight Show.

“There was a complaint issued; [and] the process was followed—the public process as equity complaints are done,” Farnan said.

According to the equity policy, a submitted complaint can undergo either an informal resolution or a formal resolution, which Farnan explained as the cause of the three-month delay between the submission of the complaint and his apology.

“When you add the informal, the formal, getting both sides to respond—each side has X amount of days—it just starts to add up,” Farnan said. “The goal is to solve it in an informal process. If it’s gone to a formal process, usually one can deduce that the informal process was not sufficient.”

Under the formal process, the complaint in question was forwarded to a SSMU equity officer, who made a recommendation upon investigation of the complaint.

“Depending on the nature and severity of the harassment, the remedies for policy violations may include, but are not limited to: letter(s) of apology, suspension of the respondent from their position within the SSMU, and […] dismissal of the respondent from their position within the SSMU,” the policy reads.

The recommendation was then brought to the confidential session of SSMU’s Dec. 5 Legislative Council meeting, where, according to the policy, it required two-thirds opposition to be overturned. Equity recommendations at this point cannot be revised.

According to Reedijk, an issue with this process is its reliance on the equity commissioner’s judgment.

“I question the power given to the equity commissioner,” Reedijk said. “[Farnan’s] case demonstrates that there are issues with the decision-making that occurs.”

Due to the policy’s confidentiality clauses, discussion of the issue is held in Council’s confidential session. Some councillors, however, have expressed concern with this stage, saying it lacks transparency.

“I’ve personally had people […] come up to me and say, ‘Why was this decision made; can you justify it?’” Science representative Devin Bissky-Dziadyk said. “The only thing I can say is [that] the equity policy was followed; we did what we were supposed to do, [and] everything was very, very official.”

Arts representative Kareem Ibrahim stressed the importance of protecting anonymity in this situation.

“A lot of the information would probably change the views of a lot of the people who are so quick to judge the situation and be critical of the decisions that were made,” he said. “[But] a lot of that information is confidential due to the nature of the process in order to protect those who have filed the complaints.”

However, clubs and services representative Elie Lubendo said the current system should be changed.

“The only thing that should be confidential is the identity of the [complainants],” he said. “Anything beyond that we should be allowed to say.”

Bissky-Dziadyk said deciding what could breach confidentiality would take longer than drawing an absolute line.

“SSMU has an obligation to be as open as possible; if that means a bit of extra work on our part, we should go through with it, as much as possible should be made public,” he said.

An overhaul of the policy had already been planned since the beginning of the academic year, according to SSMU Vice-President University Affairs Joey Shea, and will coincide with these recent concerns as a topic for upcoming Council sessions.

“At the beginning of September, we hired three researchers to do three equity research projects that were comparing SSMU’s equity policy with other universities’ equity policies, and those just finished,” Shea said. “It’ll be a consultative process, because there are a lot of people with a lot of different ideas about what’s wrong with it now.”

Bissky-Dziadyk emphasized the importance of creating institutional changes, such as the ability to revise equity recommendations to Council in the future.

“There needs to be a more dynamic process—that’s the reality of the world, a lot of decisions need a bit of back and forth,” he said. “We need to recognize that, as a group of students, [the policy] is just as malleable as any others.”

Changes to the equity policy are passed as motions at Council. Ibrahim said that despite negative response to the apology, the conversation is an important one to have.

“In reality, SSMU has gotten a lot of backlash […] from this complaint,” Ibrahim said. “I don’t think that there’s really a problem with how things have gone. It obviously could have gone a bit smoother, but I think it’s essential that the conversation that we’re having does happen.”

—Additional reporting by Abraham Moussako

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  • Steven Malkmus

    good reporting, terrible photoshopping

  • Anonymous

    Claiming that an absurd action or statement with an overwhelmingly negative public reaction is important and valid because it at least “started a dialogue”, or anything along those lines, has got to rank up there among the most bullshit inane poltiical cliches of all time.

    Congrats.

    • ogunsiron

      This happens all the time in the usa. Progressive students stage some hoax and don’t feel bad about it at all because whatever they did “raised important issues”.

  • harringm

    If this complaining student is so fragile that he can’t tolerate dissenting views, then he really doesn’t belong at McGill or any university. What McGill needs is not an equity commissar but some common sense.

  • Jerry S

    If you believe in equal rights, then what do “women’s rights,” ‘‘gay rights,” etc., mean? Either they are redundant or they are violations of the principle of equal rights for all.
    - Thomas Sowell

  • Seriously?

    Who knew that eventually an entire race would be protected from any sort of criticism or discussion? So we know now that we can’t discuss anything having to do with blacks…how long before our LACK of discussion about blacks (for fear of a response like this) will itself be racist because they’re being ignored – and we’re issued state-sponsored discussion points so that we can include blacks in conversation, but do so safely, politely and respectfully?

    “President Obama is black. President Obama is great. We love President Obama. Thank you President Obama.”

    • nicholasi

      This satire is an example of microaggression, and you must apologize: “President Obama is black. President Obama is great. We love President Obama. Thank you President Obama.”

    • ogunsiron

      You have to understand how it work with those progressive intersecitonality/social justice people. If you’re interacting with someone who’s not on the same level as you on the so-called progressive stack, whether you’re right or wrong can be determined solely based on you and the other party’s level on that progressive pyramid.
      Say you’re a white (cisgender) male and the other party is a female person of color. Then it doesn’t matter in any way what you said, what you didn’t say, what you intended to say, what you didn’t intend to say, etc. As far as the progressive is concened, you are wrong, period. In order to b right, you’d need to be higher in the stack than ther female person of color. You might need to be handicapped and transgender at the same time, for example. And Jewish, but not a zionist.

  • Anonymous

    Black people don’t get stressed, only white people do. If you think otherwise, that’s because you’re racist. That is the lesson learned from this bizarre story.

    Only a white person could conceive of such a stupid idea…

    • nicholasi

      I believe you’ll find these policies are not the work of White people.

  • RecklessProcess

    I am offended that people were offended by this cartoon of the president. How dare white people dare to be offended on behalf of some other race. It is offensive to me that free speech and comic parody are not allowed. If offends me that there are people who consider themselves the arbiters of what other people are allowed to say.
    This is disgusting. It is a gigantic aggression against this student who made a joke. There was no thought of race in the joke. There was no aggression against anyone. It was a statement of empathy and commonality of feeling with a CARTOON!
    Those who choose to call it aggression are the aggressors. They should be made to apologize to everyone concerned for wasting everyone’s time with complete nonsense. White people should not be allowed to pretend to be offended on behalf of black people or any other race. This is how you stir up racial division and create xenophobia.
    The only people seeing race are the ones who filed the complaint. The student who posted the cartoon is colorblind and we should support him. The people who made the complaint are the only racists and it is they who are striving to create strife and division and maintain racial boundaries. Disgusting!

    • nicholasi

      I am offended that you are offended that people were offended.

  • RecklessProcess

    Great advice from Morgan Freeman! http://youtu.be/GeixtYS-P3s

  • gekkobear

    “Oppression, as outlined in SSMU’s Equity Policy, means the exercise of
    power by a group of people over another group of people with specific
    consideration of cultural, historical and living legacies.” – SSMU Equity Policy

    I think I get it.

    1) The problem is racial aggression through imbalance of power.

    2) The White student clearly has the power, and the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES doesn’t have any power in comparison.

    3) Your college is led by blithering imbeciles who somehow believe having a skin tone with pallor makes you a damned super-hero who is more powerful than the President.

    4) Any rational person should run far far away to avoid these stupid people with power and no rational thought from randomly punishing people without a shred of rationality.

    That or my “super-amazing powers of whiteness” that make me more powerful than the President of the United States of America failed to develop properly.

    Can I get gamma radiation treatment for that?

  • Sean Peake

    The opposite of diversity? University.

  • profnickd

    After the complainant had his feelings hurt did he call his mom?

  • JohnSkookum

    The only proper answer to this kind of inquisition is “Go to hell!”

    • nicholasi

      Farnan’s response was, “Suck it for how long?”

  • nicholasi

    Microaggression policies are macroagressions.

  • RecklessProcess

    These administrators are doing their best to produce a generation of submissive little subjects for the totalitarian socialists in government who are destroying the economy, jobs, and running entire industries overseas. Bend over little students and ‘eat your peas’

    • nicholasi

      That is the goal, yes. Objecting to that goal is microaggression in the first degree, bordering on macroaggression in the third degree. Why shouldn’t entire Canadian industries go overseas? It’s not as if any White men ever did any work in those industries, or took any risks setting them up.

  • nicholasi

    This case reminds me of this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zB-H59OjA0U

  • LawReader

    My ‘letter of apology’ would have read…

    Dear Students – my deepest apologies that you’re attending a (so-called) ‘institution of higher learning’ that feels compelled to treat the 1st Amendment as something in need of ‘kindergarten level management’ by people to whom the terms ‘diversity and tolerance’ actually mean censorship oversight and inappropriate juvenile sensibilities bordering on mental illness.

    We’ll overlook the fact that none of this would have remotely been an issue had the picture represented either of the previous two presidents. And everyone with an IQ higher than their auto’s MPG number – full well knows it.

    Your ‘speech codes’ are – to the American legacy of freedom of speech and discourse – what Etch-A-Sketch is to fine art. That pretty much precludes the ‘educational’ part of our argument…

    While I would close with the prerequisite ‘Have a nice day!’, it’s rather obvious this would be an unwanted intrusion into your regularly scheduled angst.

    American colleges are quickly developing the reputation for having outlived their designated function. Any smart parent would simply lock his kid in a library for 4 years and come out with (should the kid be predisposed…) a better educated child – and a free house w/ the savings.

    • crackers2010

      You do know that McGill is a Canadian University in the open and friendly Province of Quebecistan, correct? I appreciate your Amendments, but we here have our own Constitution that is certainly more heartily being chipped away at than yours by idiots on the left who are convinced that the only people who have the right to hate speech are followers of a certain mideast religion of violence and certain colloquial francophones. As a white, middle class, english Christian male (the most vilified race in Canada) I want my hate speech back, in full form, with no restrictions. First person I want to smack upside the head: the jack-booted “equity commissioner”. What the hell are we doing with one of those????

    • http://gidilounge.fm/ Benny Bing

      I hope you understand how stupid your comment is as we dont have “Amendments” in Canada. McGill University is a CANADIAN University.

  • TFD123

    Lulz. Universities and leftists.

  • Phil

    From the dialogue it’s quite clear to anyone observing (which, due to the farcical nature in which this has been handled is now a world-wide audience) that Mr. Farnan’s intent was only to engage with his fellow students using humour; a shared chuckle at the shared frustrations felt by the student body. To come to the conclusion that the image was chosen as a slight against a racial group is absurd not only contextually, but also because the man in the image is the president – hardly a compelling example of racial violence.

    No, there is only one racist involved in this debacle, and that is the complainant. They are the only person who looked at the email and judged it’s content based on the colour of the man’s skin. For shame, McGill University, for empowering them and validating their arguments. By acknowledging this bogus complaint based on skin colour; by not looking at the image and thinking “that is a man”, as Mr Farnan did, but rather “that is a black man” as the racist complainant has, you have shown yourself to be backwards, easily manipulated, and quick to throw your own to the wolves in defense of a misdirected fear of bigotry.

  • Obama Lied People Died

    this college is run by a bunch of intolerant bigots, and full of lunatic students. please see my Google review of McGill where I fully expose this poisonous left wing philosophy as the same kind of oppression that has killed untold millions of people throughout human history where freedom to protest leaders has been forcibly silenced.

  • anonymous

    Hiii your friendly neighborhood liberal here – I just want to clarify something. This shit is NOT what every liberal believes. It’s not what most liberals believe. I don’t know a single person who agrees with this bullshit policy. People on the extreme, extreme left are just as frustrating to me as they are to you because they ruin things I believe in. Racism is still a problem in our world, but this is not it. When we get caught up in these tiny, meaningless “microaggressions,” we lose the ability to to fight problems that actually matter. It seems like most people commenting here are conservatives so I just wanted to say that as a mainstream liberal, we also think this shit is absolutely crazy. This does not define my political beliefs.

    • Alexander Hamilton

      Racism is not a problem in our world.

      The establishment elite hemorrhaging blood every time someone speaks their mind–as a way of underscoring their establishment elite power to discipline and punish (in Foucault’s phrase)–is a problem in our world.

      People think what they think, hate what they hate, like what they like, and everyone, of all races, prefers to be around people like them, with common tastes, goals, intelligence, and capacity for social and individual evolution. That goes for all people, black, white, pink, yellow, blue, and paisley.

      The effort to socially re-engineer all individuals into some bland taupe median is effectively a religious one akin to the pursuit of heresy in the Middle Ages. Read Ed Peters and Alan Charles Kors on that. In some parts of the world–particularly where a certain form of 20th century liberalism holds establishment power–it’s as though the Enlightenment never happened. Liberalism has rolled back the clock to the time when all you needed to have someone burned as a witch was to accuse them of witchcraft. The organization the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education champions freedom on campuses, and I advise you acquaint yourself with their work.

      Get this through your head: there is no such thing as racism. I can prove it because liberals say that EVERYONE is racist. Well, if everyone is something, then no one is, because if they are, then that’s basically saying we’re all born with the taint of original sin, and only the church and its institutional overclass of bishops and priests can save us. Balderdash.

      Enough is enough. Racism is merely the demonization–with an agenda of social control–of the pan-human tendency toward pattern recognition, including in the behavior of others and one’s own group. The real bigots and haters in this scenario are the university’s administrator caste and its elite culture of whimmy domination based on whoever doles out federal and foundation funding based on 20th century social nonsense. Enough is enough. It’s time we get back to the principles of higher education teaching people to think for themselves.

  • Tom Walker

    I saw the video of Joey Shea and she is clearly racist in my opinion. She has red hair that she preens and flaunts while it is fact that people of color rarely have naturally red hair. She should either shave her skull or wear a hat when in public. Her conscious decision to have red hair and shove it in everyone’s face is an act of aggression and white privilege.

    Shame on you Joey Shea. I demand an apology.

  • AcademiaI’sCorruptAndSICK

    ACADEMIA IS SICK
    Thank God I graduated BEFORE this sickness inhabited the majority of academia. Corrupt and sleazy the left wing idealogue bully’s that occupy the ivory towers are the epitome of intolerance they so loudly procliam.
    That this occured in Canada is of even greater absurdity. That some leftist in Canada now purports to tell anyone what Obama – the half white President has had to deal with displays the levels to whiuch the left will grovel.
    ACADEMIA IS SICK.

  • Anon

    How exactly was this racist? WHO was the complaining student? The worlds eyes are on McGill.