Demilitarize McGill gets a furlough

By Peggy Curran, published 2010/02/09 in University City (Montreal Gazette)

The campaign to Demilitarize McGill will live to fight another day.

Or at least another month.

McGill is citing a procedural glitch for postponing a vote at Wednesday’s Senate meeting on a controversial rewrite of the university’s ethics guidelines for research.

While the plan to change wording Regulation on the Conduct of Research may come up for general discussion, officials say it won’t be put to a vote until at least the next meeting of the university’s governing body next month.

Nikki Bozinoff, a recent McGill graduate and spear-carrier for Demilitarize McGill , says her people won’t be taking any chances and will show up,  just in case senators opt to overlook the technicalities and go ahead with the vote.

On Tuesday, she sent an open letter to McGill’s senators which outlines the group’s perspective on what’s at stake.

Here are the pertinent bits.

“While Demilitarize McGill does feel that military research merits increased scrutiny – it is, after all, one of the only institutions in our society explicitly intended to be harmful to human life – for the purpose of this policy, we are interested in an ethical review process for, or at the very least transparent reporting on, any research with directly harmful applications.

“Demilitarize will be the first to point out that McGill’s policy on military-sponsored research had a number of flaws, including the fact that it only applied to researchers receiving direct support from military agencies. If this were the administration’s main concern, however, we would expect that they work with interested stake-holders to strengthen these sections, rather than remove them completely.

“It appears, however, that the administration’s main concern lies in remaining attractive to potential investors and competitive with respect to other research-intensive universities. Demilitarize recognizes that McGill’s chronic underfunding is a serious problem, but we demand that the University not cash in our ethics for research dollars.

“It is important to highlight that McGill’s policy on research receiving military support, while not perfect, is unique in Canada, and came about due to sustained student opposition to weapons-related research, including a six-day sit-in in administrators’ offices in 1987. In an editorial on the topic, the McGill Daily editors were right in pointing out the irony of policies that prohibit McGill students from travelling to areas deemed dangerous, yet allow research contributing to this very political instability. To say the least, McGill’s proposed policy is short-sighted…

“It is unsurprising that McGill administrators are weary of a policy that could place restrictions on academic freedom, just as they must have been prior to the widespread adoption of policies requiring ethical review of research involving human subjects. It won’t be easy, but given its policy precedents, McGill is well-placed to lead the movement for transparent reporting on and ethical evaluation of research with harmful applications. Either that, or we look back on this moment, shrug, and reason that we were acting “in-line with our sister institutions.”

You can read the proposed policy for yourself here.

This is what the language in the existing policy says.

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