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An "unusual item" brought forward to Senate by Principal Heather Munroe-Blum led to a procedural conundrum on February 11.
Munroe-Blum reported that the Commission de la santé et de la securité du travail du Québec (CSST), a provincial body regulating workplace safety, had issued a decree that McGill implement a policy on harassment within 10 days. The equity policy, which is expected to be brought to Senate in the fall, will cover harassment, but the CSST edict meant that the university needed to implement an interim policy quickly.
Munroe-Blum explained that the interim policy was in the process of being drafted by McGill's legal department, along with Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Morty Yalovsky. The short time frame required by the CSST would not allow Senate to approve the interim policy, but it would not have an effect on the normal approval process for the equity policy once it is ready.
Senator Sam Noumoff asked if it would be desirable for Senate to approve a motion endorsing the process by which the interim policy is being created, in order to recognize that body's normal jurisdiction in these matters. Munroe-Blum asked for a straw poll, which came out 32 in favour, 27 opposed and four abstentions.
Noumoff then formally proposed a motion.
It was at this point that Dean of Science Alan Shaver pointed out that if the motion failed, the administration would be put into the tricky position of having to abide by the demands of the CSST, and therefore ignore the Senate. The Principal therefore asked Noumoff to withdraw his motion, which he did.
"This is an unwelcome situation to be in," observed Munroe-Blum.
Senator Carpenter asked for further clarification on the new policy that allows email to be used as an official means of communication to students. He and other student senators were concerned about the responsibility of students to check their mail, and the possibility that professors might notify students of class or exam changes at the last minute.
Chief Information Officer Anthony Masi answered that the same expectations of use apply to email as to other forms of communication.
"As with all forms of communication, it requires responsibility of students," he said. As to the hypothetical situation posed by Senator Vivian Choy of a professor changing a mid-term the night before and only notifying his class via e-mail, Masi said "This doesn't change any policies. It doesn't change the notion of what is responsible behaviour in a classroom."
Yalovsky presented the findings of the health and safety audit, which was conducted by WESA, an Ottawa firm. The university scored 42 out of a possible 100. Much of the blame for the low score is due to the tool the auditing firm used, which was designed for a corporate environment. Most institutions that use this particular system score between 25 and 50 their first time.
Nonetheless, there is room for improvement. When it came to employee knowledge of health and safety issues, there was good news and bad news.
"We lost points because things were not in people's job descriptions, but people did know their responsibilities," he said.
"It's important that everyone know their roles in this effort."
Dean of Students Bruce Shore presented the annual report on student discipline. Numbers are up from last year, but Shore said that that could be a result of a new option available for discipline committees, "admonishment," which is a less severe penalty than a reprimand.
Plagiarism remains a contentious issue. There in an onus to determine in plagiarism cases whether there was "intent to deceive" on the part of the offending student — not always possible when the work submitted was part of a group project, or if the student was unfamiliar with what constitutes plagiarism.
Sam Noumoff pointed out that in cases of plagiarism there were 14 exonerations. He said that professors should be made aware of the consequences of accusing a student of cheating.
Shore said that professors must show some judgment in these cases before punishing a student.
"There is room for discretion — is this a disciplinary issue, or is it a teaching moment?" he said.