Senate approves revision to university sexual harassment and discrimination policy

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On Dec. 4, McGill’s Senate approved revisions to the university’s sexual harassment and discrimination policy, which aim to clarify the procedures that follow a submission of a complaint.

In addition, Provost Anthony Masi presented the university’s financial planning for the 2015 fiscal year, which considers the possibility of the provincial government’s reinvestment in the university.

Revision of sexual harassment policy

The motion passed Wednesday includes changes to the composition of the working group responsible for reviewing McGill’s sexual harassment and discrimination policy every three years. In future reviews, this working group will include a representative of the student-run Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS).

The motion, presented by Senator Lydia White, features a number of other changes to McGill’s Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Discrimination Prohibited by Lawthe policy outlining the process by which the university deals with situations of harassment and discrimination.

The revisions proposed at Senate were developed by a working group of students, faculty, and university employees over the course of the past year. White said the main revisions aim to make the current policy more comprehensible.

“One of the main objectives we’ve been trying to achieve with this reorganization is just to make the policy clearer,” White said. “The timeline and the steps in the original version—the harassment assessors themselves, complainants, and respondents all complained that it was quite hard to understand what exactly the procedures are.”

The scope of the policy has also been narrowed by adding an exception stating that the policy does not apply to affairs of corporations such as SSMU and PGSS, which are affiliated with, but independent from, the university and have their own policies and procedures in place for dealing with complaints.

Senator Christina Wolfson said such a disclaimer could cause confusion about when exactly this exemption is applicable.

“Is the exception [applicable] when it happens in an office of that association? With a person of that association? Between people of that association? If a conversation uses the [name of the association]?” Wolfson asked.

White acknowledged the possibility of confusion and clarified that the exemption applied to incidents between two members of an affiliated corporation in the context of their work for that corporation.

“We thought we’d add some guidelines to the webpage to give examples of what and would not be excluded,” White said.

Another revision pertains to the appointment of harassment assessors—academic and administrative staff responsible for investigating complaints and mediating disputes. Previously, exactly eight assessors were appointed by the provost, consulting with student and staff associations and unions, whereas now eight is merely the minimum number of assessors, but more can be added.

In addition, the revisions increase the term length of the harassment assessor from two years to three years, and subject the position to annual performance reviews.

“It’s a difficult job, and it turns out not everyone is suitable for doing it,” White said.

The motion passed unanimously.

Budget for 2015

Provost Anthony Masi presented a preliminary report on the university’s budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which is subject to further development and will be presented for approval in the spring.

The budget plan will take into consideration the possibility of a reinvestment of funding valued between $200 and $250 million by the provincial government between the 2015 and the 2019 fiscal year. Since the decision to refund is not concrete—the provincial government proposed but did not confirm a total investment of $1.7 billion for universities at the 2013 Higher Education Summit held in February— the budget will also consider the possibility of no reinvestment.

“We can’t count on that,” Masi said. “Economic downturn could impede investment, and there could be a shift in political priorities.”

According to Masi’s presentation, the administration will make budget proposals in anticipation of the reinvestment, but with safeguards as a precaution.

“We have to specify some additional controls that we would have to put in place on expenditures in the case in which the money didn’t come,” Masi said. “So we’d have a list of priority spending, and we would only be able to reach some of those priorities if the government’s actual reinvestments […] were to come through.”