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Providing adequate student support means considering needs and resources that both facilitate and move beyond what goes on in the classroom because "life happens."
This is the context described in the document that introduced the Principal's Task Force on Student Life and Learning at McGill to senate earlier this month.
"There are numerous services in support of academic life at McGill," said Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, when explaining the initiative during the recent Town Hall meeting. She emphasized that the Task Force will not seek to replace or pre-empt existing resources but will "be able to step back and get an overarching perspective."
Post-Graduate Students' Society President Noah Billick says "Students experience a myriad of changes while at university; a strong support system helps to ease the transition and allows a student to maximize his or her academic performance."
In an interview, Dean of Students Bruce Shore said that students' non-academic needs range from "the social, to severe medical, to fitness." While no single office could adequately meet them all, Shore would like to see a campus-wide investment on the part of staff and faculty in taking those needs seriously.
"When a student brings a problem to any member of the McGill staff, that person should be able to own that problem," said Shore. He added that staff should know whom to call to facilitate a quick resolution.
"How the university can decrease bureaucracy and red tape is really the $64,000 question," said Andrew Bryan, acting student society president and VP university affairs. He felt that solving academic advising problems would be a big step in the right direction. He was also pleased with the document's acknowledgement of the university's responsibility to students in times of personal crisis.
Munroe-Blum acknowledged that bureaucracy sometimes gets in the way of ensuring that student needs are met in an appropriate and timely way. She has been discussing this issue with key individuals on campus and compiling a list of names of those who could participate. She hopes to announce the Task Force's 22 members (whose membership would be half students, half faculty and staff) in the near future.
The Task Force will split into five working groups. Consul-tation will take up the bulk of the next academic year with final recommendations expected in Fall 2006. Besides formal presentations to the Task Force, input will be solicited via the web.
Principal Munroe-Blum summed up her goal at the Town Hall in this way: "What can we do now that makes life better for students and address these issues in real time?"