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When McGill adopted the four-day summer work week a quarter-century ago, it was a temporary measure to stave off budget cuts at a time of financial crisis. Though the University is still running a deficit, Summer Fridays are an idea whose time has come and gone.
So said Provost Tony Masi, addressing the first Senate meeting of the 2006-2007 academic year on Monday. Senator Donald Sedgwick had asked Masi to explain the timing and timbre of a July 5 memo to deans and directors, calling on administrative offices to remain open on Fridays in July and August.
Masi agreed the timing of the directive had been less than optimal and reiterated the apology he wrote in an email to all faculty and staff on July 15 — by which time he said the original memo had been widely distributed.
He assured the senator that the administration is committed to coming up with a workable plan, that it will do so in consultation with unions and department heads — and that any changes will be mapped out well ahead of time.
While acknowledging Summer Fridays have become part of "our culture and tradition" at McGill, Masi said it is more important to keep the University up and running and to provide an appropriate level of service to students. He cited the example of new students from the United States who "often arrive on Fridays" and don't expect to find a 'Closed' sign slung over the Roddick Gates.
"We have the Welcome Office open [in the summer], but if everything else is closed, we don't have a second chance to make a first impression."
Computer support and admissions services are also open for business five days a week in the summer, he noted, and business is just as brisk on Fridays.
"Summer Fridays are inconsistent with the productivity of the University," Masi said, adding it's been McGill's intention since the 1980s to eventually "buy them back."
In the packed but largely staid first Senate meeting of the year, the only other item to arouse particular interest from the floor was a report on Strengths and Aspirations, the so-called white paper that will guide the University into the future.
While emphasizing the importance of the document, Senator Ralph Harris characterized it as more reactionary than revolutionary, and urged the administration to aim more for the latter.
"Being cynical, I see the white paper as the status quo in a new guise," he said. Harris also expressed concern that administrative priorities could conflict with academic freedom and the emphasis on expanding interdisciplinary programs could result in the creation of "super-silos."
Au contraire, according to Masi, nothing the University does should ever interfere with academic freedom; and interdisciplinary cooperation actually breaks down silos, as demonstrated by the Montreal Neurological Institute, the McGill Cancer Centre and the McGill School of the Environment.
Senators Michael Hoechsmann and Finn Upham wondered whether individual faculties, and, in Finn's case, master's students and teaching assistants, will feel left out of the process for not having been mentioned in the document.
"This wasn't meant to be a place where everyone finds himself," Masi replied, adding the white paper is intentionally broad and inclusive — and still very much a work in progress.