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McGill Reporter
March 20, 2003 - Volume 35 Number 12
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In George Orwell's 1984 war is peace. In the March 12 meeting of Senate, it was revealed that Tuesday is Monday. Messing with the fabric of space-time was one part of a busy agenda that included the passing of a long-awaited human research ethics code.

Principal Heather Munroe-Blum kicked off the session with thanks to the university for a very successful installation event that was a "wonderful excuse to celebrate the university." Munroe-Blum pointed out the international symposium was a particular highlight. Symposium participant Naomar Monteiro de Almeida-Filho's colleagues followed the morning symposium closely through the real-time web broadcast.

"By the end of lunch he had emails from as far away from Africa on his talk," said the principal.

Munroe-Blum gave a quick run-down to Senate of her recent talks with government officials and the implications for McGill of the recent provincial budget. There was some good news, but we're still waiting for clarification on McGill's chronic underfunding.

Senator Alenoush Saroyan kicked off the questions, asking that since the university is doing better financially, would they be willing to waive the $450 they currently charge for the use of buildings during silent hours?

Vice-principal Morty Yavlovsky reached back into history to reply.

"In July 1917, to meet the costs of the Great War, the federal government introduced income tax as a temporary measure," he said.

"In the 1970s, to cope with inflation the government introduced the capital gains tax as a temporary measure. In the most recent budget, we saw no reduction in either of these taxes."

He went on to explain that although the university is on a better financial footing than it has been in the past, it isn't good enough yet that they are prepared to waive the silent hour fees. Saroyan followed up with a request for the breakdown of what it costs to open these buildings "especially for those like my faculty of education, which is open on weekends anyway because of the library."

A recruitment ad looking for an assistant professor (special category) caught the attention of Bernard Robaire. Hiring professors in this way has the effect of prolonging time to tenure from six to nine years, Robaire pointed out, and the number of "special category" professors has risen.

"In the future, will the vice-principal (academic) guarantee that this position be used exclusively for truly special circumstance, and not for recruiting purposes?" he asked.

Vice-principal Vinet said that "although this is not a practice in which I am in favour" often hiring professors in this way is a necessary evil — especially when the new professor may not have completed a PhD at the time of hiring. The increase in special category hires is largely due to the hiring of more professors overall, but Vinet promised to take the issue to the deans.

Sam Noumoff wanted to know whether the administration planned to rectify historic imbalances in pensions arising from pay inequities in previous years.

Vinet replied that adjustments have been made where deemed appropriate, but the Gender Anomaly Program was proceeding on a policy of "not looking backward."

SSMU representative Fred Sagel pointed out that McGill and Bishop's are the only two universities in Quebec without a full-time ombudsperson. He wanted to know if the university would make a commitment to increase the current half-time position to full-time.

Vinet replied that this would be looked into upon the appointment of a new ombudsperson in the summer.

Noumoff asked the principal if her new consultation plan with the university would look at removing outdated policies, such as the standing requirement to conduct regular unit reviews.

Munroe-Blum replied that the planning and consultation process she envisioned was to be a multi-year framework to balance academic, campaign and budgetary planning.

"It's not my expectation that policies would change in this process," she said.

The academic policy and planning committee put forward its long-awaited guidelines for the ethical conduct of research involving human subjects.

Ian Butler explained that the university was required to have such a policy in order to qualify for grants from NSERC, SSHRC and NIHR. The document is designed to clarify researchers' responsibilities and streamline the tangle of research ethics boards that existed before.

There was some question as to how responsible undergraduate students would be for knowing the ethics guidelines, and how responsible deans would be for research in their departments.

Education professor Anthony Paré was curious as to what nature of research would need to be approved.

"I have a class where students are supposed to interview a teacher; they usually just phone an old high school teacher. Does that need to go through five research ethics boards for approval?"

Yes, said Butler, "But there are ways to fast-track things in certain circumstances."

Nick De Takacsy brought the discussion to an end pointing out that as no one seemed to have an objection to the substance of the document, the details could be worked out later. "We need a code, and this code is very good."

Bruce Shore presented a proposed calendar of dates for the 2004-2005 academic year. It was here that Tuesday — specifically January 4, 2005, the first day back after Christmas break — will in fact follow a Monday schedule. The Tuesday will be made up later in the semester.

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