McGill, News

McGill Senate presents COVID-19 reports, discusses accommodations and long-term planning

During a remote meeting on Feb. 16, the McGill Senate discussed a report on pandemic-associated accommodations for students. Other presentation points included the annual report of the Ombudsperson for Students, and the annual report on Enrolment and Strategic Enrolment Management. 

Principal and vice-chancellor Suzanne Fortier presented the opening remarks, noting that McGill is monitoring the current COVID-19 situation in Quebec and following the government’s proposed reopening plans. 

“We will, of course, inform our community on how these various stages of lifting restrictions affect our own university and campuses,” Fortier said. “We have not been informed of any significant outbreaks in our classrooms or in our research activities.”

The majority of the meeting, however, focussed on the report presented by the Ad Hoc COVID-19 planning committee, also known as the Ad Hoc Committee on COVID Academic Planning and Policies, led by Christopher Buddle and Associate Provost (Equity & Academic Policies) Angela Campbell. Associate Provost (Teaching and Academic Programs) Christopher Buddle summarized the report, which addressed student accommodations like the 24-hour period final examination windows and hybrid learning options. The report reaffirmed that professors do not need to implement mandatory lecture recordings.

Some senators were against adopting more academic changes, beyond those already implemented, before the end of the term. Senator Anja Geitman felt that students should be encouraged to return to campus first, then should decide after whether or not they feel comfortable with the increasing activities on campus.

Senators then discussed the accommodations that had already been put in place in response to the pandemic, and whether the Senate ought to consider them for long-term implementation. The proposition of mandating lecture recordings for all professors was again mentioned by several senators, including group 5 rapporteur, but some raised concern that students would somehow take advantage of the opportunity. 

“Lecture recordings were discussed, not in the idea that they should be mandatory, but just discussing their values and drawbacks,” a rapporteur from group five said. “Though they have values, there are also certain risks sometimes [that] students may ‘free ride.’”

Toward the end, the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) option for the current semester was floated amidst the discussion of long-term academic adjustments. Although some Senators, like Derek Nystrom, were in support, many, including Senator Gillian Nycum were not.

“Following the decision to increase S/U flexibility during the Fall 2020 term and Winter 2021 term, we had a lot of negative feedback,” Nycum said. “[The option] created a lot of confusion around things like GPA calculations, scholarships, admissions to graduate programs [….] We had many, many angry students.”

Although ideas were introduced and deliberated, the Senate ultimately came to no consensus regarding how to proceed with the information from the COVID committee’s report. The only approved motions of the meeting came for the appointment of new members to certain Senate standing committees. 

Moment of the meeting: 

Professor Patricia Hewlin, Ombudsperson for students, presented her annual report, detailing the diverse reasons that students reach out to her with complaints. She noted that the majority of the complaints were academic, a category in which requests for support increased by 45 per cent between 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. Hewlin further critiqued the existing power dynamics between students and their institutions, noting that many of the requests she received did not progress past her office.

Soundbite: 

“Mental health and sensitivity was mentioned, [particularly] how to notice when something is wrong with a student, and how it is impacting [their] academic performance. Professors need tools and training to identify this kind of issue,” — Senator Momar Ndao, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, on how to improve students’ mental well-being in classrooms.

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