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The February 2, 2005, meeting of Senate didn't cover much in terms of passing policy, but a number of announcements of interest to the community were made.
Provost Luc Vinet, in response to a question from January 25's meeting, provided a timeline on the proposed introduction of a new class-scheduling approach. The prevalence of classes with enrolment caps speaks to a lack of space at McGill, yet according to the Government of Quebec's guidelines, the university has more space than it needs, and therefore it will not fund the university for more.
This speaks to a problem with how space is allocated, said Vinet. There are a number of factors that go into the process, including class space and timetabling. Right now, the McGill system is a mix of centrally-planned class allocation with input from departments, and faculty-based allocations as done with the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
The current software used by the Admissions, Recruitment and Registrar's Office to make up the schedules is fairly old, and cannot incorporate much of the information needed, such as ideal class sizes and information about the classroom spaces themselves.
Vinet said a new project that would introduce new software will be coming on-stream starting later this year. In addition to the new software, the program will look at a number of other ways to optimize McGill's use of available space, including when and where classes are scheduled. This may include classroom alterations down the road.
The pilot project will be introduced in the beginning of 2006 at two faculties, one of which will probably be the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; the other has not been determined. If this is successful, a new system may be in place university-wide by 2007.
Vinet was peppered with questions from professors who wanted to know if the new system would be able to respect research time or incorporate more scheduling flexibility (such as being able to use a room Monday without having to book it for Wednesday and Friday). Vinet said all of these issues would be considered in designing a new scheduling system, but that the primary goal was to better use McGill's space in order to best fulfill the university's teaching mission.
Question period kicked off with a page-long, 11-point question from Sam Noumoff. The behemoth query referred to a University of Toronto report on the interaction of the pharmaceutical industry with their department of psychiatry. The report — which has not, as yet, been implemented as policy at the University of Toronto — made several recommendations to govern disclosure and conflict of interest guidelines and training for researchers. Noumoff wanted to know if McGill had any similar policies.
Interim VP (research) Jacques Hurtubise replied that McGill does have several policies relating to conflict of interest disclosure and the acceptance of large gifts. Many other policies recommended in the report cited by Noumoff are either impossible to enforce in a practical manner or are covered by external bodies (such as the recommendation that conflict of interest statements be made when submitting work to journals). He added that many of the ethics guidelines at McGill are being reviewed, and the University of Toronto report will be considered on its merits, but cautioned that it was written for a specific infringement of academic freedom at that institution.
Senator Rapps asked if, in light of high costs and often-problematic quality, the administration could urge Eastman Systems to improve their course packs. VP Administration and Finance Morty Yalovsky said that the burden on Eastman in preparing the course packs for eventual printing at McGill — a process that includes locating, copying and getting permissions for every document — was quite high. The recent move to McGill's in-house services for final printing helped cut costs by two cents a page.
Yalovsky said he was surprised to hear that there were quality complaints, and said that the Bookstore Committee was looking into the problem through a user survey. He invited anyone with examples of poor course pack reproductions to forward them to his office.
Senator Jager asked why the Redpath Library's washrooms were not put on the list for refurbishment when they were identified as a problem last year. Yalovsky responded that the deferred maintenance bill at McGill is currently sitting at $165 million, so hard choices need to be made. Part of the problem at the Redpath Library is that the move to 24-hour service there did not include a move to 24-hour maintenance. That is an issue that they hope will be resolved in the coming months.
David Bird presented the Report on Health and Safety at McGill. The Health and Safety Committee, which did most of its work last year, conducted a number of interviews and site visits concerning 19 research buildings, looking specifically at environmental safety issues.
The group had six recommendations. Proper air quality and temperature should be a priority for the university and monitored closely. Better ways need to be found to deal with general clutter, and with removing old or broken equipment. Many labs need to be renovated to improve storage and safety equipment, such as fume hoods. Safety practices, such as wearing protective clothing, need to be upheld, possibly through a system of regular inspections. Safety standards need to be established and clearly communicated, as well. Lastly, many hazards are not reported properly, and the group recommended that the procedures for doing so be better communicated and publicized.
Many professors expressed dismay that the report seemed to imply that they were to be held accountable for safety standards in their labs. Many said this imposed a new, and possibly legally enforceable, liability on professors. Senator Bernard Robaire also objected to a reference that professors' grant money be used to upgrade equipment, a provision that he said most grant conditions would not allow for. As the report was distributed late, it was decided that further discussion on the issue be put off until later to give senators more time to digest the document.
Principal Heather Munroe-Blum presented the terms of reference for the Principal's Task Force on Student Life and Learning at McGill. (For more information on this initiative, see the story on page 5.)
The Academic Policy and Planning Committee recommended that a new program — Earth System Science — be introduced at McGill as a bachelor of science degree. The motion passed. The program would be interdisciplinary with a number of courses from math, geography, atmospheric and ocean sciences, biology and physics.