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Senate: McGill's shrinking staff
During last week's session of Senate, Students' Society of McGill University president Andrew Tischler called on the University to lend its support to a SSMU-sponsored "day of awareness and voicing protest."
Tischler said that with the Quebec government's youth summit on the horizon, it was vital that university students let Quebec City know that they deplore the current state of funding for higher education. "It's important to take a stand."
Vice-Principal (Research) Pierre Bélanger indicated his unease with Tischler's motion, which contained few specifics about what students would actually be doing on that day or how McGill was supposed to support them.
Director of Libraries Frances Groen stated her support, noting that "the best efforts" of university administrators "have failed" to get the government to shift gears on the subject of supporting higher education. "The government may listen to its own students."
Pressed to be more precise about what he was calling for, Tischler suggested a "four hour suspension of activities between 11 am and 3 pm."
Mechanical engineering professor Rabi Baliga was wary. "The semester is short enough as it is."
Principal Bernard Shapiro suggested that Tischler rephrase his motion and send it directly to him. "I have no intention of closing the University, but I'll try to make it possible for people to participate." School closures come under his purview.
In the end, Senate approved a motion for SSMU to hold its day of awareness on Friday March 3. Professors will be encouraged not to hold exams or make assignments due that day, but classes will go on as usual.
Reports were brought forward to Senate outlining staff changes on both the academic and non-academic fronts.
The number of academic teaching staff has declined from 1,498 in 1993 to 1,242 in 1999. Most departures were related to retirement (52.56 per cent), followed by resignation (35.9 per cent).
As for administrative and support staff, there are fewer of them around too. There were 2,908 administrative and support staff in May 1993 and only 2,464 in November 30, 1999. The number of executive staff dropped from 28 to 19 in that period, clerical staff from 997 to 768, technical staff from 567 to 429 and library assistants from 202 to 147.
The only types of staff to increase in this period were middle managers — they rose from 595 to 686.
This prompted a question from one professor who wondered why there was money to hire additional managers, but not professors. "Are professors more disposable?"
Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Morty Yalofsky responded that many recent hires among the middle managers were "on limited-term appointments" - they aren't permanent employees.
Bélanger noted that many former clerical staff have seen their jobs evolve into management positions as their work has become more complex and more dependent on technological skill.
Vice-Principal (Information Systems and Technologies) Bruce Pennycook said that, in this increasingly electronic era, McGill had a greater need of professionals with computer skills, who are often officially classified as middle managers even if they don't manage anybody. The "M" classification is often assigned to professionals who hold specialized jobs.
Principal Shapiro pointed out that McGill was far from bloated in terms of its administrative staff. He mentioned that the cost of McGill's administrative functions "are half the average in Quebec."
Law professor Richard Janda said professors benefit from having non-academic staff around to help them out. With fewer staff in support positions in recent years, professors have had to take on more administrative tasks. "What is our biggest problem? We don't have enough time to write or think." He said that having capable non-academic colleagues around to help out "translates back into scholarship."