This page does not pretend to be either a complete or fully authoritative repository of all official department guidelines and policies; confirmation should always be sought from the appropriate member of the department (e.g. administrative staff or the departmental chair). Our aim, however, is to offer as much information as possible.
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Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law
Each member of the McGill University community is responsible for promoting and maintaining an equitable environment free from harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination prohibited by law.
For more information, see McGill's policy on this issue, as outlined in the document below:
September 5, 1998
The Department of Philosophy, in response to a request by a number of its undergraduate students, has undertaken an investigation into an apparent general reluctance on the part of women students to participate in class discussions. Women students who are otherwise vocal, competent, accomplished and have something to contribute are silent in class. The sub-committee recognizes that this is a genuine problem related to gender, and offers suggestions as to how the problem might rectified.
In arriving at the following suggestions, which are addressed to both instructors and students, we have assumed that classroom dynamics, while neither the sole nor the original cause of women's silence in class, can both contribute to and perpetuate the problem. Accordingly, changes to classroom dynamics may well assist in alleviating the problem.
In addressing the variation in class participation in our diverse student body, our focus is on gender-related issues, not because we believe that gender is the sole cause of this variation, or that attention to gender issues alone will solve the problem. We recognize that issues of power, race, socio-economic class, and personal psychology, for example, also enter in to the aetiology of this problem. In addition, while we claim that classroom dynamics can both contribute to and/or perpetuate the problem, the suggestions of this committee have been made without any prejudice towards any particular class or instructor.
In developing our suggestions, the goal is not simply to increase class participation among women, but to foster the sort of classroom dynamics that are conducive to women's participation. While it is true that some students are simply more comfortable speaking out in class than others, it is not a solution to the problem of women's participation for instructors to call on individual women who don't seem to want to participate in discussion at a given time.
In our opinion, what is conducive to brining about a classroom dynamic that promotes full participation by all students is that instructors make it clear to all students as early as possible in the term that they are concerned about classroom dynamics. It is certainly helpful to inform one's class that the department recognises that classroom dynamics affect student participation, and is attempting to address this problem. For instructors cannot solve the problem by themselves: students must also be aware of it, and to the ways in which their behaviour contributes to it.
I. Consider the ways in which questions and comments raised by women students are understood, interpreted, and responded to. In particular, guard against (a) understanding men's questions more charitably than women's questions, (b) giving fuller answers to men's questions, and (c) cutting off debate with women students while encouraging debate among and with male students.
II. Instructors should be sensitive to, and resist using, language that fosters the subordination of women and/or others.
- 'Sensitivity' in such matter includes, but is not exhausted by, instructors listening to and fairly assessing complaints made by students in cases in which the latter feel they have been so subordinated, just as instructors would in the face of other complaints brought up by students.
- 'Language that fosters the subordination of women' includes language whose "use creates, constitutes, promotes, or exploits an unfair or irrelevant distinction between the sexes," as discussed in the APA Guidelines for Non-Sexist Use of Language. We suggest that instructors familiarise themselves with these Guidelines and follow them wherever possible. Until a better document be produced, we recommend that the department make the guidelines available, e.g., by posting them on a department bulletin board.
III. Abusive language (for example, references to students which are racist, sexist, homophobic or classist) should not be tolerated in class.
What is intended is not the censoring of ideas, philosophies, or viewpoints, but the elimination of abusive language. We are sure that no member of the Department does in fact tolerate such language.
IV. Be receptive to, and avoid being dismissive of, comments that express of reflect a feminist point of view on the issues under discussion in class. Consider integrating feminist works and criticisms into the syllabus. In such cases, these works ought to be treated as legitimate areas of study, and not as interesting but peripheral texts, tangential to the goals of the course.
By "avoid being dismissive of", we mean that comments from a feminsit point of view should be treated with the same critical respect and supported by the same critical standards as comments made from other philosophical viewpoints. This is not to say that you may not explicitly disagree with such comments, but that such disagreement should be supported by the same critical standards as are applied to other viewpoints.
V. Endeavour to have everyone who wishes to speak raise their hands.
This should prevent one main soure of the silencing of students, that is, interruption by another student. While we recognise that some classes may proceed smoothly employing other methods, institution of this method in such classes should not, we think, decrease students 'freedom to speak'.
VI. Related to 'V', students should not be allowed to be "cut off" by others.
While we realise that students may think (even rightly) that their comment speaks to the issue just then at hand, such perceived pertinence should not trump the right of students to complete the presentation of their thought.
We recognise that, even if all of the preceding suggestions were to be implemented by an instructor in a class, this may not result in the participation of all women students. They do not exhaust what could be done to address the issues. We therefore encourage instructors to pursue and develop additional strategies in sympathy with the above recommendations, designed to foster regular participation on the part of all students, and which are tailored to their particular teaching experiences. Past experience has shown that the following strategies have been effective:
- Instructors should at least make a serious effort to learn students' names, where possible.
- Instructors might implement a policy whereby some fo the instruction takes place in small-group discussions.
- Students could be asked to prepare questions to ask in class. This would ensure that all stludents have the opportunity to speak in class about something that they have previously prepared and thought through.
- It may be helpful to foster student awareness of the problem of classroom dynamics by telling students, at the beginning of the semester, that they should not be self-effacing or apologetic in contributing to classroom discussion. Students should be encouraged not to preface questions with such remarks as "I know this may sound stupid but...." Women in particular tend to speak in this tentative manner, thereby inadvertently undermining the content of their remarks. However, it is important to avoid criticising speaking techniques of individual students in front ot the whole class.
We recommend that a copy of the report be distributed to all teaching staff, and that the document be made as available to students as other departmental literature is, e.g., the Course Calendar or the Suggestions for Writing Papers in Philosophy.