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Senate was launched on January 29 with a recap of the principal's busy schedule. Heather Munroe-Blum, Senate chair, informed senators she would periodically offer highlights of her business at the beginning of each session.
The principal reported on her first weeks at McGill. She's already met the heads of Quebec CEGEPs and the mayor of Montreal. Meetings with Education Minister Sylvain Simard and provincial Liberal Leader Jean Charest were coming.
Munroe-Blum also planned to participate in an announcement on university under-funding; organized by the Conférence de recteurs et principaux du Québec. CREPUQ estimates Quebec universities are under-funded by $300 million compared to their sister institutions across Canada.
"Our agenda with Quebec is critical," Munroe-Blum stressed, noting McGill needs increased support to thrive in its worldwide competition for funds, top talent and students.
Since McGill's three-year Contrat de performace with the provincial government is about to expire, the principal said she would campaign for a multi-year renewal: "A five-year contract, ideally."
While the university is an enormous asset to Quebec, she said, "We are not recognized and supported adequately." To correct McGill's current $13 million funding shortfall from the provincial government, Munroe-Blum will meet with everyone from funding agencies, the Prime Minister's Office and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.
The first question posed to Senate was from student senator Vivian Choy. She asked whether Senate would consider giving students access to names of people who have examined their transcripts.
Through the Minerva-Banner systems, she explained, advisors have online access to all current student and alumni records. Some students fear that any potential advisor could access transcripts and possibly compromise their privacy.
Anthony Masi, vice-principal (information systems and technology), replied that advisors are granted online access to transcripts to improve accuracy and service to students. "McGill has procedures to protect privacy," he said, noting the university must trust those who access information through the Minerva-Banner systems.
Masi added that the cost of updating the Minerva-Banner systems to grant students access to those who viewed their transcripts would be too costly. Unless there is specific case where abuse occurred, Masi said, the university should not provide the names of people viewing student transcripts.
Senator Bernard Robaire, a pharmacology and therapeutics professor, brought forth a motion that McGill undertake a health safety audit of all university buildings. He recommended that McGill hire an external firm to conduct the review on both campuses and that results be reported to Senate by the end of the current academic year. The motion was carried.
Senator Morton Mendelson brought forth a motion to Senate requesting the University Admissions Committee examine the gender composition of the undergraduates and make recommendations. The motion was tightly carried with 34 votes in favour, 33 against and six abstentions.
Senators engaged in a lengthy discussion about the merits of the proposal. The majority of those opposed feared such a motion could support affirmative action in favour of males.
Senator Peter Leuprecht said he was "puzzled" by the motion. Should it matter to faculties if females represent 60 percent of students, while males represented 40 percent? "I don't regard that as dramatic or unhealthy," he stressed.
Women have yet to gain full equality to men in society, Leuprecht continued. Any imbalance of women to men in the student population would help correct the years of imbalance that have long favoured men.
Senator Gregg Blachford asked whether Senate would consider tabulating the number of other minorities at McGill. "Where do we keep looking?" he questioned, asking whether McGill was prepared to poll which students were homosexual or straight.
Provost Luc Vinet put forward a motion that every McGill instructor include the following statement on all future course outlines: "All students must understand the meaning and consequences of cheating, plagiarism and other academic offences under the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures."
Senator Mendelson said the measure was necessary, given that a recent study found that 80 percent of undergrads had cheated in one form or aonther during their studies. "Fifteen percent of those cheaters were repeat offenders," he stressed.
By adding an anti-cheating statement on all course outlines, Mendelson said, McGill would prevent falsification. The motion was carried, which was a good thing according to Senator Alan Shaver: "It will advance the cause of responsibility and ethics."