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A month ago, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum took the new model Town Hall for a test run at the Strathcona Anatomy & Dentistry Building. On Friday, March 9, she opened it up down Highway 20 to Macdonald Campus in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue.
As with the previous Town Hall, the discussion was divided along three issues: meeting the needs of students in a research-intensive university; funding; and environment and sustainability.
Mort Mendelson, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) acted as moderator.
Principal Munroe-Blum kicked off the session with a little housekeeping, updating the audience on the Principal’s Task Force on Student Life and Learning.
With the submission of the report this past fall, the task force had put the ball squarely in the administration’s court.
“There is now some pressure on the Provost’s office, within the next few weeks, to come out with a preliminary draft response to the Task Force’s recommendations,” said the Principal.
Following that, Munroe-Blum said the Provost’s office would have to “come out with some very clear commitments” with respect to those recommendations in the fall.
The most popular issue raised among students—and echoed by David Bird, Director of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre—was the perception that students are being trained primarily as researchers with little experience of how to apply their knowledge in practical terms.
Taking advantage of the new Town Hall format, which encourages open discussion and rather than the more rigid Q&A format, Phil Lavoie, Manager, Macdonald Campus Farm, told the crowd that, in some sectors, this issue is already being addressed. Citing the positive feedback being garnered by Animal Sciences’ new farm internship program and the people at ergonomics sending students to farms to do a practical component to their studies.
Prefacing her comments with the caveat that she was not there to immediately solve every problem as much as she was to listen to concerns and suggestions, Principal Munroe-Blum said that the issue is already under scrutiny by administrators both downtown and at Mac.
The Principal talked about the challenge of ensuring that students in professional training programs like Nutrition and Dietetics “get research experience and benefit from the breadth of the intellectual activity of the university. And for those of you in sciences, how do we think about broadening your experiences so that you don’t feel like you’re in a bubble?”
On a related note, parasitology professor Roger Prichard asked about developing co-op programs within the public and private sector in order to provide students with valuable internship possibilities, as well as laying the groundwork for potential fundraising partnerships.
The Principal pointed out that McGill professors have already forged strong ties with “research partners who can take the product of our research and disseminate it into policy applications, practical applications and the like.”
While she admitted that “we seem to have under-realized, as an institution, those opportunities for students” in some areas, she added that she envisions by the end of this year, “not just a plan, but real movement toward developing new co-op programs, professional experiences and internships, and to see a much broader menu and a much greater productivity of those types of relationships.”