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Task force begins work
McGill is a research university and, as such, relies on the efforts of tenured and tenure-track professors who are expected to excel in both the classroom and the research lab. It's on the shoulders of these people that much of McGill's reputation rests.
But that's not the end of the story.
There are plenty of teachers who aren't tenured who still make invaluable contributions to McGill's educational efforts. People like psychology lecturer Rhonda Amsel, who won a national teaching prize for taking the scariness out of statistics for her students. Or education lecturer Carolyn Pittenger, another award winner and the driving force behind McGill's widely respected Centre for the Study and Teaching of Writing.
Performance students in the Faculty of Music would be impoverished without the focused tutoring they receive from seasoned professionals, some of them members of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Medical students learn much from their interactions with clinicians who don't have full-time McGill appointments.
On the research side, there is many a lab whose activities would be hampered, if not downright crippled, if McGill's research associates and research assistants were to suddenly disappear en masse.
"The role these people play is very important," says Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Luc Vinet. "Typically, their contributions are essential to their units."
What McGill lacks, Vinet admits, is a clear sense of the issues that are facing these teachers and research contributors. That's about to change.
Associate Vice-Principal (Academic Staff and Planning) Stuart Price will chair a task force on non-tenure-track academic employment at McGill that will take a broad look at how McGill's non-tenure-track academic staff is faring.
An open meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday afternoon at 4 pm in Leacock 232 to garner ideas about what issues the task force should examine. "It's an opportunity for people in the McGill community to say what sorts of things they would like us to focus our attention on," says Price.Price will be joined on the task force by three representatives of the administration, to be selected within the next few weeks.
Four task force members will be appointed to represent the interests of non-tenure track academic staff - one for faculty lecturers, one for clinicians with GFT-H status, one for professional associates, research associates and research assistants, and one for music instructors and course lecturers. There will be elections for these positions with a call for nominations to be sent out soon.
Vinet offers some thoughts on what the task force will look into. "People will talk about compensation, of course." Part of the impetus for assembling the task force stems from issues that surfaced as McGill recently put together its pay equity plan.
"There are other questions we want to think about," adds Vinet. "How should performance evaluations be done? What opportunities for professional development should we consider? What role should non-tenure track academic staff play in university governance?
"The issues will be quite varied, but they need to be addressed. This [exercise] is long overdue," says Vinet.
Parasitology professor Roger Prichard, president of the McGill Association of University Teachers, agrees. "I'm quite pleased that the principal and the administration has responded to this need and set up this task force."
Non-tenure track academic staff "don't have any organization representing their interests so they tend to get overlooked," says Prichard. MAUT is considering the possibility of offering membership to non-tenure track teaching staff.
"Their situations vary quite a bit in different parts of the University," says Prichard. "In some cases, their compensation is somewhat inferior to [their counterparts at] other universities in Quebec."
"Many ad hoc situations have developed over the years" in terms of how non-tenure track academic staff have been hired, says Vinet. "We need to reflect on what is appropriate. We need a clearer picture of what is going on."
Vinet cautions that he doesn't expect the task force to have magic solutions for every issue that comes up.
Some research staff, for instance, are supported entirely on the basis of research grants or contracts secured by professors. Their pay and the duration of their employment are dependent on the size and nature of the research funding. In such cases, McGill's role in determining working conditions is limited.
"What we can promise is that we will do the best we can do to ensure fairness," says Vinet. "When we see problems, we will do our best to redress them."