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The final Senate meeting of the year was dominated by discussions of motions on plagiarism detection software and Ancillary Services — including food services. The larger issue was almost eschatological in nature: What is Senate's role in operational matters of concern to the wider university community?
Question period started with a question from Sharon Rankin to Deputy Provost Tony Masi on librarian regulations. Due to the length of time it has taken to finalize the regulations by which librarians are hired, it has been four years since a career track librarian has been hired at McGill, according to Rankin, with consequent effect on morale amongst the stacks. Rankin asked that Masi circulate the draft regulations developed by the task force mandated to look at the issue.
Masi replied that it would not be appropriate to circulate draft regulations when the task force is still considering the issue. He acknowledged that it has taken a long time to study the issue, and said that he will be making himself available to librarians in the near future to address their concerns. Almost all of the issues related to librarian employment had been enshrined in the draft document, but, as he put it, "the devil is in the details." Librarians would retain their academic positions under the new regulations.
Michael Rapps asked why the athletics renovations were proceeding at such a slow pace, and why it was that a climbing wall had been dropped from the plans while a golf room was added, without consultation with the student body.
Provost Luc Vinet explained that in fact the climbing wall had to be dropped because the area for which it had been planned was being used for storage. It could be added at a later date. The golf room was able to be added without sacrificing any part of the overall plan. Delays in construction and changes in the overall plan happened over the summer, in response to an engineering problem. The university opted for expediency, and authorized charges over the summer, rather than delay construction inordinately.
Early in the meeting, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Morty Yalovsky announced that he would, as recommended at the last Senate meeting, bring the recommendations of the Dining at McGill Committee to Senate for debate and discussion.
That was not the last word on the subject. Senator Max Reed moved that Senate create a standing committee to oversee issues related to food services on campus.
Professor Bernard Robaire one-upped him. He proposed that "a standing committee of Senate, entitled Senate Committee on Ancillary Services, be created, and that this committee's mandate include, but not be limited to, food services, parking services, photocopy, course pack and printing services, hospitality and travel services and alcohol permit administration, as these activities relate to campus life, and that the matter be referred to the Nominating Committee to establish the terms of reference of this committee, and that these terms be brought to Senate no later than March 2, 2005."
Dean of Law Nicholas Kasirer spoke against the measure, saying that it could potentially remove the prerogative of senior administration to take advice from independent task forces on issues related to their areas of responsibility.
"It speaks to how the university is run. Task forces are an important deliberative and collegial way to make decisions," he said.
"If the university does not respect this balance, it will quickly become ungovernable."
Despite these objections, the motion passed with a large majority.
One controversial topic not being enough for Senate, the meeting then tackled the Committee on Student Affairs' recommendations regarding the use of text-matching software at McGill. The policy was in response to student objections to McGill's trial run of turnitin.com last year.
The main points covered in the documents allow text-matching software to be used as a legitimate means of determining cases of plagiarism, and spell out the principles and procedures that should govern its use. The intellectual rights of students should be respected, and students should not be compelled to submit their work to such programs as a requirement of a course.
Andrew Bryan proposed that motion be amended to require that Senate approve the choice of software provider. Again, this issue touched on the conflict between operational and policy responsibilities. It failed when put to a vote. A subsequent motion to require students be notified when a disciplinary officer is contacted about their work by a professor also failed. The overall policy on text-matching software was passed. It will be reviewed by the Board of Governors on December 13.
Interim Vice-Principal (Research) Jacques Hurtubise took some questions on guidelines on the creation of research centres at McGill. The guidelines spelled out the minimum composition of research centre boards, a periodic review process and funding requirements.
Professor Harold Waller was given speaking rights to take questions on the 22nd annual report of the University Appeals Committee.
The Fall 2004 enrolment report and the annual report of the Committee of Physical Development were both dropped from the agenda, as the Senate had lost quorum by the time the meeting closed at 5:40 pm.