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Senate discusses safer campus, graduate student advising, and Senate composition

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Principal Suzanne Fortier opened Wednesday’s Senate meeting with remarks on the Quebec government’s recent announcement of further budgetary cuts for the university sector.

“With regard to McGill, we believe that it means a decrease of approximately 15 million [dollars] that we already know about,” Fortier said. “Earlier this month, [the government has] also advised us that they will impose further reductions, probably at the beginning of the new year.  We don’t know the figure of the new reductions yet, nor how it will affect McGill [….] We had a budget that had been approved by the board with a projected deficit of 7 million.”

According to Fortier, the university will be challenged to meet it’s projected deficit within a year with this new reduction to its funding. McGill faces additional troubles, as the provincial government is asking for universities to have a balanced budget.

Other universities in Quebec are having similar difficulties meeting the expectations of the provincial government, according to Fortier.

“We also see more and more universities requesting more flexible approaches to the funding formula, certainly a simpler funding formula that would allow us to recruit additional funding to our institutions,” she said. “I think there [is] openness to review that by [the Quebec] government.”

Promoting a safer campus

The Senate also discussed a question from SSMU Senators VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan and Law Senator Dan Snyder regarding the recent allegations concerning a member of the McGill Redmen football team.

“How will McGill help student athletes meet […] their obligations to uphold the high standard of conduct that comes with their position as student ambassadors and role models?” they asked in a document addressed towards the Senate.

They further asked Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens if more resources will be allocated to the prevention of sexual violence, and whether “a culture of consent and gender equity” will be addressed by the upcoming review of McGill’s rules and regulations governing participation in varsity sports by a working group made up of administration and students. 

“Our recent experience with frosh made it clear that collaboration, partnership, and teamwork are the best ways to address issues of concerns for the whole campus,” Dyens responded. “Three new sections were added to the guide for varsity sports for student athletes: Responsibilities and Commitments of the Varsity sport Program, The Varsity Student-Athlete Context, and Varsity Sport Guiding Principles and Policies.”

According to Dyens, these measures, along with last semester’s appointment of a Harm Reduction Coordinator, will increase both campuses’ awareness of consent, more clearly increasing and defining the responsibilities of student-athletes in terms of behaviour and conduct. The Deputy Provost also referred to the #ConsentMcGill campaign that happened from Oct. 20 to Oct. 24 as a “respect campaign directed at all students and all members of the McGill Community.”

Graduate student advising

Presented by Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Professor Martin Kreiswirth, recommendations on graduate student advising and supervision were debated during the Senate session.  The recommendations follow reports from the previous ombudsperson from 2010-2013, Professor Spencer Boudreau, and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) from 2012 to 2014. They were also made in consultation with, amongst others, the Academic Policy Committee, the Council of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS), and the secretary-general of PGSS.

“Graduate supervision at McGill is rated below the high standard of achievement that characterizes other academic and research measures for the university,” Kreiswirth said in the statement. “Furthermore, the repeated call from the ombudsperson for an orientation for supervisors at McGill has remained unanswered [….The reports] indicate that supervision is a frequent cause for complaint.”

The recommended regulations and guidelines aim to standardize the relationship of supervision between professors and graduate students, so as to settle disputes if needed between the supervisor and the supervisee.  Professor Catherine Lu expressed her concerns regarding the proposed recommendations.

“Unlike the title says, the recommendations contain no regulation and [do] not define the role of the supervisor, the advisor, [or] the academic units,” she said. “There is no delineation and role assignation.”

Professor Alenoush Saroyan from the Department of Education also outlined the difficulties of having someone to fulfill the roles as indicated. 

“There is reference that [a] supervisor should have competence in the student proposed area of research,” Saroyan said. “Recently, there [was a] situation […] where the person in charge of the supervision had left the university and there was nobody in that unit to supervise the student.”

Senate reform

The Senate approved the revisions proposed by Masi following the approbation on May 2014 of the report and recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Composition of Senate. The reform increases the total number of Senators from 107 to 113 and proposes to change the number of seats allocated to each faculty proportionate to their size.  The number of seats allocated to the Faculty of Education was decreased from four to two. The number of undergraduates student seats remains at 13, while the graduate student seats  reached a total of five senators.

“Why [wasn’t the] opportunity taken to entertain increase student representation on Senate?” Stewart-Kanigan questioned. “For example, University of Alberta [has] 35 per cent of representation of students.  At Concordia, there is 29 per cent, whereas McGill is currently around 16 per cent and has dropped over this last review.”

Masi explained that the Ad Hoc Committee had not given any recommendation that the university should increase the proportion of student seats at Senate above its present levels.

“The ad hoc committee did look at different ways of composing Senate and the decision was taken to more or less keep the student representation as it is and to make these shifts,” Masi said. “For example, graduate students go up in this representation because of the increased number of graduate students presently at McGill.” 

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