Senate: Agog over the BoG

Senate: Agog over the BoG McGill University

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McGill Reporter
April 28, 2004 - Volume 36 Number 15
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 36: 2003-2004 > April 28, 2004 > Senate: Agog over the BoG

Senate: Agog over the BoG

The Board of Governors (BoG) membership numbers may be shrinking, but the amount of words expended on the subject grows ever greater. BoG reform was the subject of renewed debate in Senate on April 21, as the ad hoc committee on governance presented its report on the BoG's proposed new structure.

The meeting started with the report of the steering committee. Vice-Principal (Finance) Morty Yalovsky updated Senate on health and safety procedures. The Health and Safety Audit conducted last year fulfilled only part of a Senate resolution: the other part was a comprehensive assessment of both McGill campuses classified by levels of potential risk for health and safety hazards. That three-phase process will be starting soon, with a committee being formed that will begin by examining the major research buildings on campus. The working group will be chaired by Associate Vice-Principal (Research) Ian Butler, and will compile risk information, develop a grid to assess the various levels and types of risk and validate information with building directors and departmental safety committees. This process is scheduled to be completed by March 2005.

Principal Heather Munroe-Blum commenced her remarks by thanking senators Kate Rhodes and Vivian Choy for their service. The two SSMU executives finish their terms in May, and April 21 was their last Senate meeting.

She noted that many in the senior administration have been attending meetings in associations to which McGill belongs such as the Association of American Universities (AAU). She said that it was striking that many universities are coping with the same problems — shrinking budgets and greater interference from government in operations. Most alarming among U.S. universities is state monitoring of classroom lectures for anti-American sentiment.

On a related note, the new security environment may be responsible for a drastic decline in overseas applications to U.S. universities for postgraduate studies. The Principal invited Dean of Graduate and Postgraduate Studies Martha Crago to comment on the implications to McGill.

Crago said that there has been a dramatic overall increase in foreign applications to McGill, but that may be due in part to the new electronic application system. She also noted that McGill has seen a big jump in American students applying, and that these are accepted in a higher proportion than their overseas peers.

In concluding her remarks the Principal took time to address the concern that the university is becoming top-heavy, with the addition of two new senior positions: vice-principal (inter-institutional affairs) and associate vice-principal (communications). McGill still has a very lean administration compared to other universities of our size and scope, she said, and this has an effect on administration's ability to function effectively.

"Administration should always be in service to the academic mission of the university, and we have been undervested in a number of areas in our ability to steward our resources," she said.

Coincidently, the next major issue before the Senate was the reduction of size of the Board of Governors. Roger Prichard presented the report of the ad hoc committee on board governance.

The current BoG has 45 members and 22 emeritus members. In addition, the president of SSMU and all vice-presidents have speaking, but not voting, rights. This makes the effective membership of the BoG 74, which is unwieldy. The Governance Review Group proposed that this be pared down to 18. This proposal was brought to Senate for discussion on January 21, when it was agreed that this number was too small, and would have a detrimental effect on the diversity of voices on the Board.

The ad hoc committee of governance proposed a compromise measure, which would see 25 members. This would be composed of 12 members at large, three members from the alumni association, two from full-time academic staff, two from administrative and support staff, one from SSMU, one from PGSS and two from Senate. The Principal and Chancellor also sit ex officio.

Prichard said that it was a compromise that he believed the Board could accept, though even if Senate endorsed this proposal it would not mean that it would necessarily be binding on the BoG.

Kate Rhodes, who, as president of SSMU, currently has a voice but not a vote at BoG meetings, was vociferous in her criticism of the report.

"It talks a lot about numbers, and numbers have become a real distraction," she said. The committee did not pay enough heed to why certain representatives had a seat at the BoG table; eliminating the SSMU president's voice, she said, would deprive the BoG of one of the best-informed student voices at the table.

Nathan Taylor, also a student senator, moved that the report be amended to reinstate the SSMU president's voice. Morton Mendelson spoke against the amendment, noting that it would give SSMU special status.

"Why not the PGSS president? Why not the president of MAUT, or MUNASA?" he asked "This would give undue weight to the SSMU."

The amendment was put to a vote, and defeated.

Sam Noumoff pointed out that eliminating the emeritus members would have the effect of removing a great resource from the university, at a time when McGill will need their services for the planned capital campaign.

"It is incomprehensible to remove those people who have demonstrated their commitment to the university," he said.

Several senators — many of whom were former or current BoG members — said that the reform was needed, and the report was a reasonable and still effective compromise.

The vote was called and the motion passed.

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