Dozens reunited in front of the Schulich School of Music June 28 waving signs, singing and playing all kinds of instruments. They were protesting McGill’s decision to close its music Conservatory at the end of the summer. McGill’s announcementwhich took place on June 20, cited high operating costs, lack of space and declining enrollment – compounded by the pandemic – as reasons for the program’s halt.
The conservatory, housed at the Schulich School of Music, is a community program that has been providing music lessons to people of all ages in the greater Montreal area for over 100 years. Students, teachers and community activists fighting against its closure Argue that it plays a vital role in the community and that McGill could do more to make it work.
The McGill Lecturers and Instructors Union (MCLIU) organized the June 28 rally and launched a petition keep the conservatory doors open. MCLIU President Raad Jassim explained the union’s position in an interview with The McGill Tribune.
“It’s a question of manpower. It’s number one,” Jassim said. “We have 100 instructors who will lose their jobs. It’s called, in [the] labor code, collective dismissal [….] And there are no good reasons given to the union, to the members, to close it.
According to Jassim, other unions, such as the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) and the Association of Non-Academic Staff of McGill University (MUNASA), will also be impacted by the closure of the conservatory.
McGill’s claim that they have no space to house the conservatory rings is incorrect for Jassim. He mentioned the Royal Victoria Hospital—which is now under McGill control and is empty, due to undergo renovations for eventual use in 2028— as proof that there is enough space on the McGill campus to continue the program. He further believes that the administration prioritizes elite music education over community programming because it is more profitable.
“But is education just about money? Will our tax money just create money for the institute? These are the questions we ask ourselves and [why] I created a petition,” Jassim said.
Jennifer Bell, who taught at the conservatory for more than 30 years, played saxophone at the June 28 protest. Jazz coach Bell described the unique nature of the conservatory and the diverse crowd it attracts in an interview with the Grandstand.
“I don’t think there’s any other musical setting where you could have a band where a few people are old people. [and] high school students,” Bell said. “We’ve had students in other faculties at McGill, we’ve had people who […] doctors, lawyers, engineers, […] janitors and garbage collectors [….] The diversity of people who would come together in these groups is truly amazing.
Like Jassim, Bell believes McGill is unwilling to develop a solution that could save the conservatory. Bell also launched the Facebook “Save the McGill Conservatory of Music” band, at the request of a teacher from the conservatory, which already has more than 600 members. The page is primarily used to organize against closure and to share testimonies of the conservatory’s positive impact as a creative outlet for the community.
Claire Loewen, McGill’s media relations officer, wrote in an email to Grandstand that McGill views the conservatory as economically unsustainable and that the decision to close it is final.
“In recent years, the Conservatory has faced an increasing number of challenges as operating costs have risen. It should be noted that the Conservatory is self-funded and receives no government funding,” Loewen wrote. “The lack of reliably available space is also a challenge. As the Schulich School of Music continues to expand its graduate-level programs, these spaces are now critically important [….] The Schulich School of Music will form a task force to examine sustainable ways to continue our commitment to community engagement in the future.