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The first meeting of Senate for the 2004–05 year drew a large attendance to the Robert Vogel Council Room on September 22. Following the introduction of new senators by Principal Heather Munroe-Blum and some housekeeping announcements, student senator Andrew Bryan, raised the question of difficulties faced by students due to increased enrolment. For example, increased class sizes have led to a physiology class having to be scheduled very early in the morning in order to secure a large enough room. Some of the students in that course are parents who depend on daycare facilities, which open later than the start of their classes. Discussion centered on the need for better timetabling tools and more classroom space. It was noted that McGill has sufficient teaching space according to Ministry norms; and technologies such as course-on-line, which was developed by the Department of Chemistry, enable students to go over complete lectures and course material on computer at their convenience.
The major part of the meeting was devoted to three "state-of-the-union" presentations from the Administration. Principal Munroe-Blum reported on Institutional Strategies: Vision, Achievements, Goals and Priorities. She expressed confidence in our human and institutional capacity to rank in the very top ranks of the world's public research-intensive universities, but added two important cautions. "We are engaged in an intense international competition for outstandingly talented students, faculty and staff," she said. "This competition is intense both locally and globally." Also, she noted: "There are tremendous new demands for accountability from government and other stakeholders, requiring big administration costs. Service, service, service," she stressed.
In his presentation "Pushing Excellence: an Agenda for Developing Tradition and Innovation", Provost Luc Vinet emphasized an integrative and multi-year approach to academic planning. Besides the major tasks of hiring new deans and one hundred or so new staff each year, the review of curricula and courses in high on his list of priorities. In response to a question by Senator Robaire about the public availability of the compacts that came out of the recently-undertaken planning exercise, Dr. Vinet assured Senate that they were close to finalization and would soon be posted on the web.
Look for a Big Yellow Taxi in front of the Music building on October 27. Principal Heather Munroe-Blum started the Senate meeting of October 6 with congratulations to Dean of Music Don McLean, who has secured folk singer Joni Mitchell as a honorary degree recipient for the fall convocation.
McGill's presentation to the to the Quebec National Assembly Education Commission on September 28 went well, according to Munroe-Blum.
"What was very helpful was the depth of the exchange on elements of higher-education public policy," she said.
There was only one question in question period, from Max Reed, who wanted to know why Faculty of Arts enrolment had increased by 11 percent this year, when the overall targets for the university were supposed to be 5 percent.
Provost Luc Vinet said the enrolment was not an exact science.
"The yield on offers turned out to be significantly higher this year than in past experience," he said.
He added that the Admissions, Recruitment and Registrar's Office would be fine-tuning the process over the next year to try to bring enrolment back into line with targets.
Vice-Provost Martha Crago presented the proposed McGill Academic Program Review Process. The proposed review process will replace the cyclical review process. The new system will allow for faculties and departments with relationships to coordinate their review processes. Faculty review groups will appoint program review groups – both groups will consist of academics and students, and, in the latter case, possible external experts. One senator asked if this process would lead to a uniformisation of procedures. Not at all, said Crago.
"The idea is to look at yourself in comparison to other universities that are doing the same thing. There's no intent to impose anything," said Crago.
Vice-Principal (administration and finance) Morty Yalovsky presented the 2003-2004 Financial Report to the Board of Governors for Senate's information. McGill ran a deficit last year of $3.3 million, bringing the university's accumulated deficit to $19 million. Shortfalls will continue for the next four years, which will bring the deficit to 40 million, he predicts. This compares favourably to Laval's $117 million cumulative deficit, but less so to the balanced budget of École Polytechnique.
"We're moving to the middle of the pack," said Yalovsky.
Some financial challenges being faced by McGill include a deferred maintenance bill of $165 million. Also, provincial law requires us to increase funding to the pension plan by $3.3 million for the next two years, and $1.7 million for the three years following. Current pension plan assets are at $1.01 billion.
According to his projections, Yalovsky sees the university achieving a balanced budget by the fifth year.