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Senators discuss research misconduct, divestment

Faculty members and students will now face new procedures when accused of research misconduct. At its meeting on Jan. 13, the McGill Senate approved a new research misconduct policy, discussed the university’s climate change policy, and heard annual reports from members.

Research misconduct policy revisions

Senate passed a research misconduct policy following a period of modification.  Provost Christopher Manfredi introduced the document, which prescribes the manner of disclosure and investigation of alleged research misconduct. Professor Abraham Fuks, research integrity officer and member of the Biomedical Ethics Unit, was invited to answer questions regarding the latest revisions to the policy.

Medicine Senator David Benrimoh questioned whether members of the McGill community are obliged to aid the investigation if called upon, or if they are free to disassociate themselves if they so choose.

“The language of the policy states that all members of the McGill community must cooperate with an investigation, so where along [the way] the word cooperate becomes forced, we’ve never tested that, happily,” Fuks responded.

A previous question posed by Benrimoh entailed examining the proceedings of a misconduct investigation if three or more allegations were put forward, instead of just one. Fuks acknowledged that while such a situation has never been encountered, it would lead to the formation of a committee in order to examine the situation further.

“It really isn’t meant to be a plea bargaining for television, it’s meant to accept the self-evident and get on with life,” Fuks said.

Divestment from fossil fuels

Arts Senator Erin Sobat put forth a question regarding McGill’s divestment from fossil fuels. Sobat addressed the administration when asking if failure to take such course could potentially tarnish the reputation of the university.

“Has the administration considered how not taking action on this issue might affect our reputations as a research institution and given the current political, economic and environmental moment, is this an opportunity for McGill to swear our vision as a sustainability leader with the actions needed to prevent catastrophic climate change?,” Sobat asked.

In response, Principal Suzanne Fortier stated that she felt that this was not the case.

“There’s no evidence actually that it has any impact on [the] reputation of universities,” Fortier said. “A thorough assessment of the question is what is expected of [the] University, and anything less than that may probably affect our reputation.”

Sobat followed up his first question by asking what McGill should do proactively in the field in response to the change in funding on behalf of the newly-elected federal government. Fortier clarified that competition for new funding had yet to begin

“[The government] intends to invest in research in sustainable technologies and intends to launch five or six chairs in sustainable technologies,” Fortier said. “We have been following progress on this, and as far we know, these competitions have not been launched yet, but we certainly are tracking progress there and are hoping to participate.”

Annual reports

Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens provided the annual report of the Student Life and Learning department. The presentation included the latest advancements of McGill’s response to sexual assault. This notably included the newly-launched Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention website, which features awareness initiatives, tools for reporting an incident of sexual harassment or assault and advice for survivors.

“We will soon bring, through the dean of students, a sexual assault policy recommendation to Senate,” Dyens said.

The annual report for Research Performance and Innovation was presented by VP (Research and International Relations) Rosie Goldstein, and included the announcement of the position of associate VP of Innovation and Partnerships.

“We’re recruiting McGill’s first associate [VP] of Innovation and Partnerships with the goals of building on the momentum in this area and bringing more cohesion to the services,” Goldstein said.  “Part of the role of this person will be to […bring] together many units that are currently engaged in the process of transformation, and really [foster] a culture to improve the support to innovation and partner entrepreneurship.”

The new position drew the attention of Medecine Senator Kenneth Hastings, who queried the creation of a position given the current period of budgetary constraint.

“This is a new position, however it is part of a reorganization of office of Partnership of Innovation,” Goldstein responded. “There will be, in the end, less managers rather than more.”

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