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The November 17 Senate meeting was marked by some hard questions on the Dining at McGill Advisory Committee, which will be examining the question of food services on campus. The important issue of McGill's commitment to funding the social sciences and humanities was also raised.
John Galaty led off the questions with a long query on McGill's commitment to social sciences.
In the last year, he pointed out, the Vice-Principal (Research) Office has eliminated funds used to match Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) research time stipends, which are given by the federal funding agency to professors to pay for teaching replacements, allowing for more research time. The conference support program was also cut, as will be the seminar budget, which brings in outside academics to discuss their latest research. While SSHRC funding has decreased by one third for "small grant" activities, like start-up research costs and graduate research, McGill has provided no new funding to make up the shortfall.
According to Galaty, this flies in the face of the recommendation of the Association of American Universities — of which McGill is a member — that "university presidents and chancellors should make the humanities a major focus in institutional strategic planning."
Interim Vice-Principal (Research) Jacques Hurtubise said that the university believes strongly in the importance of the humanities. Many of the funding disparities between the humanities and sciences are due to the proportion of available outside funding. McGill's staff and research profile are changing, and university funding practices need to adapt to current needs.
"Apart from the teaching releases, the amounts that the university has spent on small grants over the last five years is roughly constant, in spite of a decrease in our block SSHRC grant. If one then adds the injection of internal funds for start-ups and research centres, the global picture, I think, is improving," he said.
"However, both the pattern of research and the people doing it are changing, with a lot of new faculty coming in. In light of this, I asked Professor Galaty earlier this year to sit down with his colleagues in other faculties and propose a global plan for internal funding in the humanities."
This would cover many of the issues Galaty raised in Senate, as well as travel grants, seed funds and summer graduate student support. The current "Arts Renaissance" is an ideal time to study these questions, and Hurtubise said they hope to see and begin acting on those recommendations within the year.
Associate Provost Martha Crago said that there was a reduction in university matching funds for humanities graduate students in the last year, in part due to the astounding success of McGill graduate students in attracting Canadian Graduate Scholarships from the SSHRC. These are valued at $17,500 and $35,000 each. Also, Crago said that internal funding for graduate students is already skewed toward the humanities in recognition of the relative dearth of outside funding for their research, as compared to the sciences.
The next question came from Senator Max Reed, who wanted to know why the Dining at McGill Advisory Committee was set up the way it was. Unlike Senate committees, whose members are chosen from the bodies that they represent (be they SSMU, MAUT or MUNACA) and have a mandate to report to Senate, the Dining at McGill Committee was picked by Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Morty Yalovsky and will report to him directly.
Yalovsky said that the committee is not a governance committee that is dealing with issues of university policy, but rather of operational services. He acknowledged that the membership of the committee was not selected by their constituents, but said that the committee will allow for broad input.
"The entire university community has been asked to make submissions to them," said Yalovsky.
A number of Senators expressed disappointment with the approach the administration has taken on the issue. Professor Nicholas Acheson said, "It's a very disturbing way of setting up this committee — there's no consultation, no debate."
More than one Senator pointed out that 7,500 students, staff and professors had signed the petition on food services last year. Many ancillary services have associated committees, such as the bookstore. Food services is one of the few services in which everyone at McGill has some interest, which puts the Dining at McGill issue in a different category than many purely operational activities of the university.
Heather Munroe-Blum intervened to point out that if every operational service had a Senate oversight committee, the university would grind to a halt.
"What we're trying to do here is to find a balance," she said.
It was suggested that Yalovsky make the contents of the committee's report public before making his decisions on their recommendations. He agreed to take that under advisement.