McGill, News

McGill Senate wrangles over ‘academic excellence’, New Vic, and donations

The McGill Senate convened in room 232 of the Leacock Building for the third meeting of the academic year on Nov. 16. Senators delved into reports from the Senate Nominating Committee and Academic Policy Committee, and participated in an open discussion on the university’s evaluation of “academic excellence” among professors. After several Senate committees presented their annual reports, conversation turned to recent donations and McGill’s New Vic Project.

Christopher Manfredi, Interim Principal and Vice-Chancellor, opened the meeting by addressing the recent provincial elections and expressed his wishes for better engagement with the re-elected government. Discussion then broke into tables of senators, who were asked to ponder how the university community conceptualizes “academic excellence for academic staff.” 

Senator Patrick Hansen, an associate professor at the Schulich School of Music, pointed out that measures of “excellence” will be evaluated uniquely in every discipline. Terri Givens, professor of political science and the Provost’s Academic Lead and Advisor on McGill’s Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism, elaborated on how traditional measures of “excellence” can work against those in marginalized fields.

“I’ve experienced this personally, when you are working in areas that are considered, you know, on the sidelines of a discipline, it’s often difficult to publish in the top journals,” Givens said. “We have to be very careful about […] how we assess these things like h-scores, [which] don’t necessarily apply. Somebody can be seen as a really top scholar in a field that just doesn’t get a lot of the same traction as other fields.”

Senator Sam Baron, a student representative for the Faculty of Arts, pointed out the importance of centring the student experience by hiring good lecturers, not just good researchers.

“The professors who are going to be here permanently in such a capacity should, of course, be the best of the best at passing their knowledge on to the next generation of students who are coming into the field,” Baron said.

In response, Manfredi admitted that McGill has not yet found the perfect mechanism for evaluating both the research achievements and the teaching prowess of teaching staff. 

The Senate then moved to the Annual Report on University Advancement, which outlined the donations made to McGill during the 2022 fiscal year, over which a total of $241.8 million was raised in gifts and pledges.

“Donors have helped us build the number one student aid program in Canada, allowing us to welcome the second largest proportion of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds in the province of Quebec,” said Vice-Principal (University Advancement) Mark Weinstein. “We also launched, during the pandemic, the student emergency fund, and in the past year we received over $130,000 in gifts from over 1,000 donors for this important cause.” 

David Vaillancourt, a senator representing undergraduates from the Faculty of Engineering, questioned how the university will fundraise for the New Vic Project in the wake of McGill’s recent loss to the Kanien’kehá:ka Kahnistensera in the Superior Court of Quebec.

“It’s obvious to me that fundraising is completely inherent to the university’s continued existence and excellence,” Vaillancourt stated. “But I would caution, specifically with the fundraising of the New Vic, to really read the room and fundraise in ways that are socially appropriate given the situation.”

Moment of the meeting: 

When presenting the Annual Report on the Investigation of Research Misconduct, Dr. Christina Wolfson mentioned a general rise in cases flagged for investigation, with funding now being spared for a Research Integrity Officer. Wolfson described an “increase in the number of anonymous allegations from colleagues,” which was met with nervous laughter amongst many in the Senate.

Soundbite: 

“I would really like to thank the disciplinary officers for their service, this is not a fun job to do.” — Dean of Students and professor Robin Beech, upon presenting his first in-person Annual Report on the Code of Student Conduct

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