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Senate, staff and student sessions
Senate was brief October 2, but Senator Sam Noumoff posed an interesting question about University policy. What if a student is under psychiatric care and could pose some sort of disruptive or safety threat to those around them? How does the University balance the privacy of the student versus the "need to know" of faculty and staff in order to equip them to deal with the student's possible behaviour?
Bruce Shore, Dean of Students, responded that his office is indeed working on that question. Associate Dean Linda Jacobs Starkey is helping put together a file folder called, "Helping students in difficulty." Staff are encouraged to invite Starkey or Shore to address them about this matter.
M class concerns
Oyez, oyez! The Senate folk who represent administrative and support staff (aka Management or "M" class) have called two Town Hall meetings downtown for the M class to attend and get the ear of their Senate representatives. Another will be held out at Macdonald Campus.
Afterwards, the senators will produce a summary document of the M's most pressing concerns to Senate.
At the first meeting, M Senate rep Gregg Blachford, Career and Placement Services director, said, "We can alert people to what our concerns are [in Senate], but it is not a decision-making level. But it is where vice-principals and the principal are."
The hot issues are non-academic renewal, compensation and centralization. With McGill's aggressive academic hiring policy, more non-academic staff are needed to help with the increased workload. Although staff hires are up from the mid-nineties, those are mostly due to term positions. The University has responded by providing more money for new support staff, which is in the hands of the deans--Blachford urged M's to ask their deans where that money's going.
One typical M said although she's pleased that her faculty has money to hire a new secretary, she still feels undercompensated for her workload. Outside of her job's duties, she mentors M's, deals with Banner, helps new chairs, explains policies and procedures, trains new hires. Exhausting, and with no financial compensation--"You can spend 2, 3, 4 hours a week just on mentoring and not see a penny."
Part of getting new staff, Blachford said, is having the money to offer higher starting salaries. Administrators in the room agreed, complaining of not being able to hire top-notch clerical staff, and when they do get someone good, "as soon as they get a better offer, they leave. Then you spend all that time training again." Also, the high turnover chips away at the institutional memory.
Vice-president of MUNASA Bob Stanley said, from his experience at a university staff conference last spring, "Non-academic staff renewal is not a concern, a priority for any university in Quebec." He added, "If it's going to happen successfully in any university, it has to be planned. From the top down… By throwing money at a problem, you're not planning." And, importantly, he added, "the institutional memory of McGill is in the hands of people like us." Sobering thought: in a decade, 35 percent of the M's will be retired.
Centralization or decentralization? That's the question Blachford raised--what direction do we want to go in? Deans still have a lot of autonomy, but procedures are becoming centralized.
We all have griping sessions, but we have to give it more time, it will get better...We're pioneers here.
People felt that increasing centralization is a good thing. The one-stop shopping of the NCS/ISR help desk was raised as a reasonably well-functioning example of a centralized service. ICC's placing video equipment all over campus makes life a lot easier than before, too.
But then there are glitches that seem incomprehensible. How is it, in this modern day, one M mused, that no one can get web versions of appointment forms and data forms? They should at least be online so people can fill them out on a computer, then print them. Then there are forms of termination for which one has to drag out a typewriter. At least 10-15 percent of appointment forms sent to HR are lost, slowing down the process even more.
As ever, Banner…
As ever, the centralizing effort of Banner drew grumbles. "The University is not recognizing the incredible workload on faculty and staff relating to the Banner system," said one M. Those in small units fare even worse--"We're expected to become experts, but we only use it twice a year, so we forget… Why is there a need to be prolific in all three forms when we use them so little? We need one expert to fill out all the forms." It's inefficient to keep relearning a task and contributes to burnout.
M's are frustrated by the waiting time when calling for Banner help. Under normal circumstances, that's okay, but when there are the usual, constant interruptions… One person confessed that when someone on the help line does get to her, "I just hang up because I forgot what I was calling for!"
But don't worry, Vice-Principal Tony Masi, it ain't all bad. Someone said, "We all have griping sessions, but we have to give it more time, it will get better… We're pioneers here." Why, some people sound downright optimistic about Banner. Particularly those in faculties where the academic staff are happy to learn Banner, and are quick at it.
Others are not so sure, unable to make their horses drink after leading them to Banner. "You can't force academics to do what they don't want to do. That's what I've learned in 30 years," said one M, suggesting that learning Banner be delegated to a few.
Next Town Hall: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 12:15-2:00 pm, Brown Student Services Building, Rm 5001.
On a related note, Management Forum invites you to attend a plenary session presented by Human Resources on "The NEW Management Compensation Scheme" Friday, October 18, 12:00 – 2:00 p.m. Chancellor Day Hall, Room 100.
What about grad students?
Meanwhile, the Post-Graduate Students' Society unanimously approved a PGSS environmental policy of their own, following McGill's policy footsteps of Senate, September 18. PGSS President Ron McTaggart-Cowan says the "re-affirmation of our pro-environment stance lays the groundwork for further improvements." Although the policy's still young, "we hope to build it to the point where it can be seen as a truly progressive document."
PGSS and SSMU plan to submit an academic indemnity motion to Senate to have October 31 classes rearranged so students can attend the Canadian Federation of Students-approved "Solidarity Network to Stop the FTAA" pan-hemispheric Day of Action and Student Strike. McTaggart-Cowan says students want to "voice their concerns about the impacts of the FTAA on education and other sectors."