McGill’s Long History of Employment Discrimination and Grad Students Mental Health Challenges

The AGSEM, Discrimination, Antisemitism, and Anti-Zionism in Hiring Practices at McGill University

Bonnie K. Goodman
12 min readDec 22, 2023

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Source: McGill Tribune

Just a few days earlier, I was chastised by the associate director in the scholarships and financial aid office about having a financial plan to pay for myself. For a half-hour interview, she grilled me about having a financial plan, why I said I had one when I was accepted, and why I do not have one now. If I do not have a financial plan, they cannot help me, and I might have to drop out of the university if I cannot afford it. The emphasis was that I was mature and should have saved money between graduating and returning to the university. All questions I found singled out my age and implied that an older student should not have help from the university. She walked back on the first interview’s comments in a second interview. Still, how can any graduate student who enters a university have a financial plan that can be followed through when departments promise funding and teaching assistantships and refuse to follow through? When the university hiring plan systematically excludes them from employment, give all the earnings and preference to the students already there. Doctoral students are there for years. Somehow, a mature graduate student is expected to have earned and saved money. Unfortunately, society makes assumptions that are discriminatory in and of themselves.

In their article “The high cost of inadequate funding for grad students,” Professors Langford and Carstairs delved into the impossibility of students self-supporting themselves with university funding. They write about self-funding, which refers to financing a project or venture using one’s resources or personal. Obtaining a Ph.D. degree can pose a significant challenge for students due to the financial burden it entails. Students are typically faced with the options of utilizing their family’s savings, taking out loans, or engaging in excessive work to finance their studies. Enhanced funding is essential to ensure that a wide range of students, including those from Indigenous and Black backgrounds, can participate in PhD programs, contribute to developing new knowledge, and exhibit more significant innovation in their academic endeavors. The underprivileged minorities, women, and those with disabilities need extra help to get through their degrees.

In a way, I am starting financially at zero since my mother died. However, financial life has never been easy since my father died. My mother was sick with a heart condition for a long time since I was an adolescent. She had lifestyle-altering heart surgery in 2015, and afterward, she began losing her eyesight; by 2019, she would have been considered the legal definition of the blind after her fall in 2020 and a lengthy hospitalization that included a legal battle with an antisemitic hospital. My mother did not want anyone else watching her. My mother always gave her life and sacrificed everything for me; as her daughter, it was my responsibility to do what she asked. Even though I tried my best, I still regret that I could have done more; maybe been less cranky at times, felt more joy about helping, and less that it was a chore. We understand in society that caregivers give away so much to help their older parents. I never considered my mother elderly; she was hip and cool, knew everything pop culture, and was even a Taylor Swift fan until her last day. How in the world does an adult child who is supposed to get rich take care of their parent?

However, I needed more monetary help when I returned to university. I went back to university because I had the sole financial responsibilities on me after my mother died, without any immediate family to help me. I saw university as an opportunity to improve myself. Although they want to cry wolf with the recent tuition raises, McGill has enough funds from donors to ensure their graduate students have work on campus. When they employ students and have jobs to employ students, they have to give the jobs to the students who have the qualifications for the jobs. Keep them from going off-campus to get a job.

Just as McGill had a long and complicated history with antisemitism and anti-Zionism, so do they have job discrimination towards their students. As a Library and Information Studies graduate student in the early 2000s, I experienced it twice. In my second year as a grad student, I desperately wanted a coveted reference position that was the stepping-stone to entry into an academic reference position. Being the only one with an art history degree in my class at the School of Library of Information Studies, I hope to land a spot as one of the two students chosen for reference positions in the Blackader-Lauterman Library of Art and Architecture. I was excited about my interview, only to have one of the most embarrassing experiences of my young career at the hands of a much older and experienced female director of the art history library in an otherwise routine interview about my skills, degree, and work experience. The director referred to me as a volunteer research assistant to a male professor at the university since my undergraduate days. She patted my knee twice and told me I could have the job if I stopped associating with the professor. What she did would be called sexual harassment, slut-shaming, character assassination, and any other trendy term to deny me a job because she assumed without any proof that I was involved with a professor.

A couple of years ago, while researching, I came across a finding aid I wrote for the Abraham de Sola Fonds when I worked at the McGill University Archives nearly 20 years ago as a student in the Masters in Library and Information Studies program. The university must have digitalized the copy and posted it online; for years, I wanted a digitalized version of the copy McGill had on file. I was shocked to see how I was barely given authorship credit. My name was placed at the end of a list of authorship names. I was marked as an afterthought, not acknowledging the work I had done from the start to the completion of the project.

In my last semester in the Masters in Library and Information program, I wanted more experience in archives, so I embarked on a student position in the university archives. I was given a project to catalog and create a finding aid for the Abraham de Sola-Evelyn Miller Fonds. An amateur historian and volunteer archivist, Miller collected copies of documents related to early Canadian and American Jewish history and of her great-grandfather Abraham de Sola (1825–1882). De Sola was the leader of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Shearith Israel in Montreal and a professor of Hebrew and Oriental Literature at McGill; he was a rabbinical authority. His sons Mendola, Gershom, and Clarence succeeded in his influence in the Montreal and Canadian Jewish community. Mendola continued his father’s position at Shearith Israel, and Clarence founded the Zionist movement in Canada.

From February to August 2004, I cataloged every item, document, copied and original, photo and research note the late Evelyn Miller had collected, a treasure in early North American Jewish history. The experience and my long interest in Jewish studies and Jewish history from my days at Montreal Jewish Day School experience prompted me to apply and be successfully accepted to the Masters in Arts in Judaic Studies program at Concordia University. I originally wanted to write my Master’s thesis on Clarence de Sola and Canadian Zionism but was deterred by a mentor. My work on the archival collection led to an exhibition I organized and curated with the archives director, held in the Redpath Museum in June 2004. Until then, the project and exhibition were my most outstanding professional achievements.

I found out that spring, when I handed in my pay slip with my hours and pay rate, which was $9 an hour, that my peer, a female classmate in the Library and Information Studies program, also working at the archives, was earning double me, $18 an hour. In 2004, in the province of Quebec where McGill is, the minimum wage was $7.45; at a university with a bachelor’s degree and at the cusp of receiving a master’s degree and two months after it was granted, I was being paid just $1.55 above the minimum wage. We were equals, yet I earned half her salary for the same work. She was just one year older than I was and had just a bachelor’s degree in history besides the current degree we were pursuing. The only difference was that she had taken a few more archives courses than me, but as I learned the hard way in my attempt for the art history reference post, credentials do not matter. We talk about the difference in pay rates between men and women in the workforce who have the same education and experience and are outraged that we should feel the same way even if two women are not paid equally for equal work.

I went to the archives director, another woman, and she gave me what now seems like an unrealistic reason: individuals funded the projects, but there were just not enough funds to pay me more. She chose to pay two women with the same experience for the same work, such a difference. It was discriminatory, plain and simple, and violated the Canadian Human Rights Act, which guarantees pay equity. When the director told me there were no funds to pay me beyond July, I stayed on and even worked for two and a half weeks at the end of the project in August without pay to complete it. Her excuse was absurd in a rich university like McGill, which always helps its students and recent graduates with jobs. When I found the published finding aid posted on McGill’s website, I discovered there was money to pay someone to work on the project, not to pay me, not even for the time I spent on it. Despite my work throughout and a successful exhibit, favoritism was in play, the other female student continued on to edit the project and then received starring credit for the finding aid leaving me without even the credit I was due. Denying credit is a faux-pas not only in the work world but it happens more often but especially in the academic world, where taking credit away from an author and giving it to another is akin to plagiarism.

I first wrote about these experiences for International Women’s Day 2019 about how women employers tear down younger women. The Director of Archive’s excuse for the discriminatory pay practices she subjected me to is no different from the excuses the history undergraduate coordinator gave me about the TA position; both wanted to hide discriminatory and unfair work practices, either pay or hiring. The most outrageous was the head of the art history library’s sexual harassment and discrimination. The current situation is just a repetition of the kind of employment discrimination that is a long-time pattern at McGill; thousands of other students probably have similar stories like those revealed at the AGSEM bargaining meeting. However, McGill, their administrators, and supervisors get away with it because students fear speaking out.

Langford and Carstairs believe that insufficient funding exacerbates the mental health crisis within graduate education. In their article, they refer to the Degrees of Success report by the Council of Canadian Academies, which finds graduate students are significantly more prone to experiencing depression and anxiety compared to the general population, with a six-fold increase in likelihood. Students in advanced stages of their academic programs are at an increased likelihood of experiencing symptoms that range from moderate to severe. Graduate directors are commonly known as “the feudal lord of despair.” The historians noted, “The graduate students we spoke to were vocal about how financial insecurity impacted their mental health.” They believe “Canada needs to do better by our students in history and the humanities and social sciences more generally.[1]

Graduate school poses considerable obstacles to the mental well-being of students, such as impostor syndrome, feelings of isolation, financial difficulties, intricate relationships with advisors, and concerns about future employment prospects. According to a 2018 study conducted by Harvard University, a significant number of graduate students were found to have a higher likelihood of experiencing anxiety and depression compared to the general population. According to the research, addressing the mental health issue among graduate students requires the involvement of the student’s campus health services and the departments responsible for creating a conducive environment that influences students’ well-being and perspective. [2]

This past semester has been stressful for all Jewish students as they try to navigate the hostile campus environments. Here in Montreal, Hillel has been giving students mental assistance and access to free mental health resources and counseling to deal with this stress. The JED Foundation explains, “Physical and virtual safety is critical to students’ mental health and emotional well-being. Students should feel safe when they enter classrooms, move through campus, and engage online. Without a sense of physical safety, learning is not possible and mental health declines.” [3] The foundation believes that students who have personally encountered bias, hate crimes, or violence are more likely to experience mental health symptoms, even if they were not the direct victims of these harmful actions. Assaults targeting campus organizations can have a detrimental impact on the psychological welfare of all students. To tackle this issue, it is imperative to ensure an adequate presence of mental health professionals, establish social and peer support networks, and promote effective communication regarding the availability of support services. Promoting a culture of support and inclusivity on campus is crucial, urging all individuals to recognize and offer assistance to those facing difficulties.

My mother’s death and the financial strains combined with grief caused me anxiety. I also have a learning disability, and anxiety only makes it more difficult for me to concentrate and do my work. My department and professors and their reactions have only exacerbated my anxiety and made it more challenging to complete my work. I entered the degree believing I would have TA positions to support myself. The financial strains, especially losing out on a TA position I had been promised six months ago, add a heavy burden on me and will have severe repercussions on my life and academic career. Couple these strains with my heightened profile and being legitimately scared this past semester of the hostilities surrounding me on the McGill campus. My professors ignoring it, and my anxiety has been almost paralyzing. A considerate and supporting department and professors might have eased these worries. Jarrod Tanny is right for me, and other Jewish students on university campuses need Jewish professors to support, speak, and protect all Jewish students, especially those brave enough to speak out about the injustices. Surprisingly, some within the Jewish community are trying to discourage me from speaking out and going further, saying it is not worth it. While Jewish history is full of instances where we should have said or done something to fight antisemitism, instead, there is this instinct not to rock the boat. However, we always have to speak up. It is our responsibility.




Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a historian, librarian, journalist, and artist. She has done graduate work in Jewish Education at the Melton Centre of Jewish Education of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in Jewish Studies at McGill University. She has a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused Medieval and Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.” Ms. Goodman has been researching and writing about antisemitism in North American Jewish History, and she has reported on the current antisemitic climate and anti-Zionism on campus for over fifteen years. She is the author of “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism.”

Ms. Goodman is also the author “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” and “The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish Goal of Whiteness in the South,” among others. She contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history, and regularly writes on “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature. Her scholarly articles can be found on



Bonnie K. Goodman

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a historian, librarian, and journalist. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @