McGill exams disrupted by fire alarm

Protesters not to blame: associate dean

Two hours into his three-hour economics exam on Monday, third-year McGill University student Nico Ahn’s concentration was broken by a blaring fire alarm. He and hundreds of other students (there was another big exam happening in the same gymnasium) were told to leave their belongings and tests behind.

In the chilly morning air outside, Ahn says he and other students theorized about the alarm. Did someone realize she was going to fail, slip out and pull the trigger? Or was it an anti-tuition protester who wants all students to join Quebec’s boycott of classes—whether they like it or not?

Meanwhile, says Ahn, other students discussed possible answers to the exam questions.

After less than half-an-hour, firefighters let them back in. Some began to write. Others waited for instruction. Minutes later, they were told that the exam was cancelled and handed in their sheets.

“On the way back on the train from the exam, every time I saw someone with a red square, I felt really angry,” says Ahn, referring to the red patches of fabric worn by supporters of the anti-tuition protest and its 72-day strike. “I didn’t know whether I’d wasted my time studying,” he adds.

Ahn directed his anger at the activists because he thought it was likely they had triggered the alarm. His department, like much of McGill, never voted to join the widespread protests. But that hadn’t stopped activists from trying to prevent McGill students from entering exams the week before.

Ahn is tired of the protests. “I’m not necessarily for tuition hikes,” he says, “but people are losing their sense of reason. It’s getting more and more violent. And Charest won’t change his decision.”

Indeed, Quebec Premier Jean Charest has said repeatedly that the $1,625 hike planned for the next five years will go ahead. Education Minister Line Beauchamp said earlier this week that she would meet with two of the main groups opposed to tuition hikes, the Fédération étudiante collegiale du Québec (FEUC) and the group representing CEGEP students, in hopes they will end the strike.

But today, FEUC backed out citing the fact that another big student group, Coalition large des Associations de solidarite syndicale etudiante (CLASSE), is excluded. Beauchamp said she’s unwilling to meet with CLASSE because it advertises demonstrations that may lead to violence.

As for Ahn, he won’t have to re-write his exam. On Tuesday, students received an e-mail with three options: have the exam marked (with it pro-rated to take the lost hour into account), rewrite it on Sunday, or re-write it in August. Having completed three-quarters, he’s happy to have it graded.

Ahn does have some concern about fairness, considering students wrote for a few minutes after discussing answers, but he thinks McGill handled the situation well given the circumstances.

André Costopoulos, the associate dean of student affairs, says that the standard protocol was followed and the options given to students are fair.

Costopolous has another message for students: they’re wrong to assume protesters triggered the alarm, he says. In fact, firefighters determined the cause was simply “dust from construction.”