Ruth Rosenfield and the MTA Memory Hole

By Robert Green

In his classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell describes an authoritarian society constantly in the process of rewriting its own history. As an employee of this government’s propaganda department (ironically named The Ministry of Truth), the novel’s main character Winston is responsible for removing any information that might be seen as “inconvenient” to the regime. He and the other employees of the Ministry of Truth spend their days snipping such inconvenient information from news reports and tossing the snippings down pneumatic tubes, known as “memory holes”, where the information is never to be seen again.

The novel is ultimately a critique of the way political leaders attempt to manipulate information as a means of controlling people and maintaining their own power.

Members of the Montreal Teachers Association (MTA) might be surprised to learn that a similar process occurs within their own union.

Anyone who compares what transpires at a typical meeting of the MTA Reps Assembly with what appears in the minutes of these meetings will quickly notice that there is a major difference between the two. Namely, the minutes have been purged of any questions, discussions or debate that could in any way reflect negatively on the MTA’s leadership. The statements of those expressing critical opinions are all too often reduced to, “[Teacher X] spoke to the motion”. Meanwhile questions, discussions or debate that reflect positively on the MTA’s leadership are given disproportionate space within the minutes.

The process by which the minutes are routinely purged of any statements that could reflect negatively on the MTA’s leadership was made very clear at a recent meeting of the MTA Reps Assembly. MTA president Ruth Rosenfield was asked directly if she herself vets the minutes. After playing coy about the expression “vetting the minutes”, she admitted that indeed she does edit the minutes directly herself before they are submitted to the reps assembly for approval.

The members of the MTA are then left with a version of events recorded not as they happened, but rather as Ms Rosenfield would have liked them to happen.

The above mentioned discussion is a telling and somewhat ironic case in point. When the minutes of the meeting where this discussion took place were presented to the reps assembly for approval, the entire discussion was removed. No question about whether the minutes were vetted by the president and no admission that indeed they were. The entire discussion went straight down the memory hole!

It should be noted that it is highly unusual in a democratic organization for a president to be involved in any way in the process of preparing minutes. Preparing minutes is supposed to be done by neutral parties who don’t have a vested interest in the meeting’s undertakings. This is exactly why democratic organizations hire or elect secretaries: someone to record the minutes that does not participate in debates and hence is not considered to be an interested party. The irony is that the MTA employs such a person. However, their work is not deemed suitable for mass consumption by the membership until it has been edited by the president.

Another way that some organizations avoid the issue of bias in the recording of minutes is to opt for ‘verbatim’ minutes where every word is recorded and there is no question as to what to include or omit.

While some MTA members may be concerned or even outraged by the fact that our organization’s president spends her time actively trying to prevent the members who pay her generous salary from having an accurate picture of what transpires at meetings, we have only ourselves to blame. Minutes are always approved by the reps assembly. Until our own representatives show some willingness to ensure that the organization’s minutes are without obvious bias, George Orwell’s memory hole will be alive and well within the MTA.

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4 Responses to “Ruth Rosenfield and the MTA Memory Hole”

  1. That is an unusual practice. A sign of insecurity?

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