Following backlash from the McGill community over last month’s appointment of Robyn Wiltshire as the interim senior director of student services, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), Ollivier Dyens, has apologized, admitting student consultation should have been a part of Wiltshire’s hiring process. Wiltshire succeeds Richard Zereik, who served as interim director of Student Services from November 2013 to May 2015.
The interim senior director of Student Services
In September, the executive bodies of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), the Post-Graduate Students’ Society, the Macdonald Campus Students’ Society (MCSS), and the Macdonald Campus Graduate Students’ Society (MCGS) published a statement denouncing the lack of student consultation in Wiltshire’s appointment. According to the statement, an advisory committee for the selection of the senior director of student services was created in May, but the search was halted after the summer.
“The committee’s work was postponed as of Sept. 15, 2015, when members were informed that the search for a new senior director was being placed on hold while Student Services underwent substantial changes over the coming year,” the open letter reads. “Neither the committee, students, faculty, nor staff were consulted or previously informed of the appointment of a new interim senior director.”
In response to the statement, Dyens apologized to the members of the advisory committee.
“I understand the students didn’t like the fact that I didn’t consult with them, and you know what, they probably have a point,” Dyens said. “I should […] have consulted with them. I think they’ve made a good point, and I’ve told them so. And I’ve […] apologized to the [advisory] committee.”
Dyens continued to explain that Wiltshire was hired to allow the McGill administration to prioritize its review of the Students Services framework before hiring a permanent director of student services. According to Dyens, this review is intended to explore how Student Services can be more proactive in terms of providing resources to students.
“Right now we’re a downstream service […] students come to see us and we try to help them,” he said. “We have great challenges right now—mental health is an issue [….] We believe that thinking of a more proactive approach is the best way to provide services to our students. We tried to [find a candidate] during the summer and were not successful at it. One of the reasons […] was that we were saying to the people we want to rethink student services, but it was more of a general notion. And then I thought, why don’t we rethink the best way to […] have more upstream types of services […] and then go after the [candidate] we’d like to have.”
Arts Senator, Erin Sobat, who sits on the Committee on Student Services (CSS), disagreed with Dyens’ viewpoint.
“There’s a concern that if you’re totally changing up the system, it’s not the best time to bring someone [new] in,” Sobat said. “I’m a bit skeptical of that because I think that the best people to lead the kinds of changes that we want to see in Student Services are student services professionals […] with professional associations in research and literature. I think they’ll very much understand this context [….] What McGill’s looking at is not very groundbreaking in terms of […] building linkages and collaborations between units.”
Sobat also has concerns over the competencies required in the job description for the position of director of Student Services. This includes the possession of a master’s degree in a field relevant to student affairs.
“We would have loved to see someone with that [Student Services] background in the position to be leading that change, and it’s unfortunate that that’s not happening.” he said. “[Somebody] who meets the basic requirements of the committee that were in the position profile that was sent out [….] the current interim senior director does not have a master’s degree, or a degree in the area of student affairs.”
The hiring process at McGill
The hiring process for senior administrative positions at McGill, such as the provost, the deans, and the principal are outlined in McGill’s Statutes, which describe the procedures for government of all university affairs. Article 3.4.1 of the Statutes stipulates the creation and membership of an advisory committee for the hiring of such employees.
“Before recommending an appointment for the office of provost, deputy provost, or vice-principal, the Principal shall have consulted an advisory committee consisting of four representatives of the Board of Governors, four representatives of the Senate and two students,” article 3.4.1 reads.
Dyens explained that advisory committees suggest high-level candidates for the position.
“What the committee does, is that it brings forward recommendations on a number of candidates that the search committee believes are above the bar,” Dyens said. “Then we start negotiating with [the candidates].”
According to Sobat, the selection process for positions like the interim director of Student Services is much less structured. Following the CSS’s request to increase student representation on the advisory committee to select the senior director of Student Services, the student membership on that committee was raised from two to three individuals.
“The actual composition of the [advisory] committee in the end, we were very happy about. It was a good balance of students […] and administrators,” Sobat said.
Nevertheless, Sobat continued to underscore the challenges of student involvement within selection committees.
“There’s a very strong emphasis [on] the advisory role of pretty much all of these selection committees,” he said. “We had, in fact, asked if [McGill] would consider making [the advisory committee for the selection of a director of Student Services] a formal selection committee instead of just an advisory committee, and that request was denied.”
Going forward, Sobat stressed the importance of student consultation in the hiring process.
“[Students] are the minority in the [committee…] in a way, that’s not reflected by the actual composition of McGill,” Sobat said. “You do need to work a bit harder just to have your voice heard in a more convincing, effective way. When the McGill administration really works as hard as they can to incorporate student feedback into the process, then it tends to be better in the long run for the success of the individual in the position.”
This article was corrected on October 20, 2015. The Tribune regrets these errors.