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McGill Reporter
March 10, 2005 - Volume 37 Number 12
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Senate: Talking to government, getting IT right

The first part of Senate on March 2 was taken up with Vice-Principal (Inter-Institutional Relations) Janyne Hodder's presentation on provincial relations and education.

Quebec universities are underfunded by at least $375 million, and there is no consensus on where the money should come from.

The government policy is not to increase tuition for this mandate, but, Hodder said, "My own sense is that everybody realizes something has to move, if not this mandate, than the next."

The Charest government will probably present the 2005—2006 budget sometime in May or June, which could give McGill an opportunity to make their case for funding.

Quebec's policy-making values tend toward issues such as equity, social justice, serving the public and accessibility, Hodder said. McGill's task is to make the government ministers realize we fit the bill for their aims. "Our greatest challenge and opportunity is to breathe content and life into a vision of McGill's aspirations that can inform public policy in the service of Quebec society, as well as in the service of our mission," she noted in her PowerPoint demo.

Although McGill is fairly well equipped for meeting its immediate needs, we need to focus on the medium term, Hodder said. This includes positioning McGill as one of Quebec's international beacons, up there with CÈline Dion and Cirque du Soleil, and proposing funding frameworks in which McGill can be beneficial to Quebec as a whole. Hodder pointed out that the tension between McGill and the MEQ parallels the political one between Montreal and Quebec.

The discussion following included a question from Senator Bryan about possible plans to raise tuition. Hodder said that McGill's considering it, "not because we believe students should pay more, but because we need more resources." If the university were to get $150 million next week, she said, they wouldn't need to think of it.

Senator Chagnon reminded Senate that Quebec ministers come and go, but public servants are here to stay, so it's important "to link with people who are in place a long time."

Deputy Provost and Chief Information Officer Anthony Masi gave an update on Information Systems and Technology (IST) at McGill. His office looks after core IST services, educational technology, strategic planning and institutional analysis (which will be developed with Hodder), and libraries. As little as four years ago, these units reported to three VPs, but now report to a single entity.

Technology is ever-shifting, and his office must keep up. More and more information is coursing through our tangled web. Unfortunately some of that is unwelcome — 87 percent of email that tries to get into our accounts is spam, one of the challenges IST faces. And student IST use is on the upswing. For instance, last semester 74 percent of all students had at least one course using WebCT.

Costs have shot up from about $50,000 annually to near a half-million just to provide internet services. To accommodate the increased need for bandwidth, McGill will move to a new software system soon.

Our phones need upgrading, too. The downtown campus system is 17 years old (it was supposed to last a decade) and the one at Macdonald Campus is even older.

Recent initiatives are ticking along, such as the one-stop help number, in place for 18 months. That program is working well, though it needs a little fine-tuning, Masi said. And IST has developed a popular virtual help desk at www.mcgill.ca/ics/vhd. All of the desktop support per computer per year costs $150.

Projects for the future include extended 911 services, setting up information technology infrastructure for the Gault estate, identity management and developing an enterprise web portal that would allow users to customize their computer's McGill web portal. And one day, students will be able to submit theses online, as well as course evaluations.

More of the campus is going wireless, too — even in classrooms. The technology has to be smart enough for the access points to be turned on and off, though. Masi said that some professors have requested wireless access be not available in classrooms, for fear that it would lead to a modern equivalent of students reading a newspaper in the back row.

Senate discussion included expressions of crankiness with the proliferation of acronyms in people's email signatures and addresses. It was making it hard to look up contact info in the phone book unless you already knew what the string of letters referred to. One simple solution Senator Harpp recommended is to have an alphabetized list in the front of the phone book.

Senator Whitesides recommended there be an electronic suggestion box for just such pleas. Masi agreed promotion of this would be a good idea.

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