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Principal Heather Munroe-Blum began her remarks to the first Senate meeting of the new year on a sombre note. Four McGill-affiliated persons have been lost in the December tsunami and hundreds of members of the university community had family, friends and colleagues in the affected areas. She praised the efforts of students and staff who are responding with time and money to help alleviate the disaster and its consequences. The Principal also noted with sadness the tragic death of promising music student Chris Driscoll in a skiing accident on January 9.
The planning process is moving along, Munroe-Blum said, and will result in the preparation of a paper in February for presentation to the relevant governing bodies in March. On the MUHC front, the intense public debate in the province over the location and funding of the new CHUM has deep implications for us, she added, and we are working with the MUHC to pressure the government to enable us to go ahead, and are watching to make sure parity is maintained.
As for recent funding, "We've had a wonderful run on the Social Sciences and Humanities sides," Munroe-Blum told the meeting. External funding has been approved for several new projects, including $2.5 million for interdisciplinary work on Early Modern Europe led by Shakespearean scholar Paul Yachnin and $2 million for a project in the James Bay region, to be led by anthropology professor Colin Scott.
Deputy Provost Tony Masi was asked to respond to a question from Senator Acheson about how the university should react to the MacLean's university rankings. Masi pointed out that there are issues with the magazine's methodology and conclusions and that, in any event, we should not be setting our priorities according to the indicators MacLean's chooses to use. Nevertheless we do spend a huge amount of time co-operating with them and several other similar publications and in analyzing their results -- the administraion doesn't feel it would be worthwhile engaging in a public debate with them. Acheson then suggested that it might be useful to use an internal mechanism, such as the Reporter, to inform the university community of the issues raised by the rankings and our responses to them.
The U.S. Department of Education wants to gather more information on U.S. students and Senator Sam Noumoff expressed fear that the data will not be used solely for statistical purposes. What is McGill's position on this matter? he wanted to know. Masi replied that McGill has not been approached by the Department of Education and that the Admissions, Recruitment and Registrar's Office does not release any information regarding individual students to outside bodies without the student's express consent. U.S. students do sometimes authorize us to provide some nominative information about them to the Department of Education, since it is required for student aid purposes.
A sparse one-page document from the Senate Committee on Student Affairs -- recommendations for the 2006–2007 Calendar of Dates -- engendered a lively debate. Following Senate guidelines and previous practice, it proposed that timetables on certain days follow the schedules of other days. For example, the last day of classes in Fall 2006 would be Tuesday, December 5, but classes, labs, etc. would be scheduled according to the Monday schedule. Such rejigging helps ensure that the required number of teaching hours are achieved, explained the Senate Committee's chair, Dean Shore. Professor Baines, with the support of some other senators, felt that we should stick with the regular calendar and let each professor work out things out for their own classes. He also asked that public transport scheduling and bank holidays be taken into account when drawing up the calendar. In the final vote, the Calendar of Dates as originally recommended was approved.
The final two items to make it into the meeting were the Annual Report of the Ombudsperson for Students and the Fall 2004 Enrolment Report. Dr. Norman Miller became the university's ombudsperson in September 2003. Citing the fact that students at other Montreal universities, such as Concordia and the Université de Montréal, have access to far more ombudsperson resources than are available at McGill, he took advantage of the first retrospective of his office's service to plead for a change of his position from a part-time to a full-time one.