Contrat nears completion

Contrat nears completion McGill University

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McGill Reporter
November 2, 2000 - Volume 33 Number 05
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 33: 2000-2001 > November 2, 2000 > Contrat nears completion

Contrat nears completion

During last week's session of Senate, Vice-Principal (Academic) Luc Vinet updated fellow senators on the University's discussions with the Quebec Ministry of Education concerning a "contrat de performance" that will be used to gauge how well McGill is doing its job.

The Ministry has pledged to increase funding to the province's universities to the tune of almost $80 million over three years.

In return, universities have to submit detailed plans giving the government a sense of how they plan to spend that new money.

According to Vinet, the government is particularly interested in getting information from universities about their strategies for hiring new faculty, developing new programs, distributing teaching responsibilities, fostering administrative efficiency and improving graduation rates. "We must provide targets and goals," said Vinet.

McGill officials put together a draft document over the summer, received feedback from ministry representatives last month, and are revising the plan with an eye towards having a final document soon.

Education minister Franois Legault himself met with Vinet, Principal Bernard Shapiro, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Morty Yalovsky and government relations director Ginette Lamontagne two weeks ago. "He is eager to conclude the agreement with McGill," reported Vinet.

Vinet reiterated that McGill has made a pledge to hire about 100 new professors each year for 10 years in a bid to restock the University's academic corps.

On the subject of new programs, Quebec City wants to know the socioeconomic relevance of what the universities are proposing. Vinet says McGill has indicated its intention to build up in several hot areas, including bioinformatics, software engineering and language acquisition.

He added that the Quebec government acknowledges McGill's strength in research. "We generate almost half of all the research funding in Montreal. By ourselves, we're almost equivalent to all of Vancouver. We have the highest publication rate in the province."

Vinet says McGill has promised to maintain teaching loads that are comparable to those at other leading research-intensive universities. Even research stars lured to McGill through the Canada

Research Chairs program will be expected to contribute to teaching.

McGill has pledged to maintain its current graduation rates for undergraduates -- the best in the province and among the best in the country -- but Vinet says McGill was pressed by Legault to improve its results in certain areas where the graduation rate falls below the 70 per cent mark.

"It was the minister's assessment that McGill does extremely well overall, but he identified areas where we aren't doing so well. [In these areas] we are committed to improving the graduate rate to the 70 per cent mark."

Music and religious studies are the problem spots. Vinet says music poses a challenge, because music students in the performance programs often leave before completing their degrees once they make a name for themselves and start getting jobs. "They don't really need the degree. We have to find a way of increasing the incentives [for them to stay.]"

Vinet also noted that McGill students from Quebec tend to trail other McGill undergraduates by about six per cent in their ability to successfully complete their degrees. He stated that McGill will take action to improve their performance.

Chemistry professor Patrick Farrell asked Vinet to clarify his thoughts on this subject. "When marking our students, we do not normally base the grading on [students'] civic address."

Vinet explained that he believed the lower graduation rates for Quebec students were, to a large extent, tied to the difficulties francophone students encounter at McGill.

"We have to make it easier for francophone students to succeed here. [Language] is an added challenge for them." If the challenge is too arduous, Vinet continued, students might "choose not to finish at McGill. They can always switch to the UniversitŽ de MontrŽal." While the University has taken steps to create a more welcoming environment for francophones, Vinet believes McGill should explore additional possibilities.

Microbiology and immunology professor Malcolm Baines had a suggestion. He believes McGill should create an English-language immersion program for francophone students during the summer preceding their arrival at the University. Though such an endeavour would be costly, Baines believes the expense would be off set by the money McGill saved in preventing francophone students from dropping out or switching schools.

Graduate student Robert Sim mentioned that a recent Statistics Canada report stated that McGill students paid the highest ancillary fees of any students in the country. He asked whether these fees would be eased in light of the University's improving financial prospects.

Dean of Students Rosalie Jukier replied that when you factor in all the student fees McGill students pay, "they certainly aren't the highest in Canada. I know several universities where the fees are a lot higher."

Philosophy professor Storrs McCall asked Vinet if there was flexibility in McGill's hiring plans. What if we lose more professors than we expect to as a result of retirements or competition with other employers?

Vinet replied that careful simulations involving many factors -- including retirements and other job possibilities -- led McGill to its decision to hire 1,000 new professors over a decade.

"At the end of the 10 years we expect to have 1,200 professors, a net increase of 200 faculty." He added that McGill "is already on target," hiring 114 new faculty this year. "If we lose more professors than we expect to, will we hire more? Of course."

Principal Shapiro said, "All renewal involves a real tension in the extent to which various parts of the University are prepared to allow other parts to prosper. Our funders sometimes have very different ideas about what is important than we do."

As a result, it will be easier to get government funding to support certain types of faculties and activities. "To strike an appropriate balance, we will have to make very difficult internal decisions about the extent to which we will favour the have-nots."

Law professor Richard Janda suggested that the contrats de performance pointed to "a new way of handling the relationship between the Ministry and universities.

"The Ministry has a shopping list of priorities," he noted, asking Vinet how comfortable he was with the process.

He also asked about the return of the cyclical review process to McGill, one of the University's contrat commitments. Janda noted that the reviews were "the subject of some controversy and some fatigue in the past."

Cyclical reviews, used to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of individual units, came under fire from some quarters for involving too much time and too many resources to too little effect.

"We need to revisit cyclical reviews carefully," Vinet acknowledged. A workgroup will study different strategies for the reviews and bring a proposal to Senate.

As for the contrat exercise, Vinet said, "We can be cynical about it or look at it positively. This does present an opportunity for a dialogue with the minister about what universities are and about what we are prepared to be."

Earlier in Senate, civil engineering and applied mechanics professor Ronald Gehr spoke about McGill's adoption of the Banner system for financial records.

According to Gehr, researchers have little love for Banner. He says the switchover to the new financial records system "isn't making life simpler for researchers," the people who attract research funding to McGill in the first place. He also complained that researchers often have to shell out for additional software in order to use the Banner system to keep track of their accounts.

Vice-Principal Yalovsky replied that there are always "hurdles to tackle" with such a "large and complicated" transition to a new system. He said McGill will be taking steps to help researchers master Banner; more trainers will soon be available and trouble-shooting visits are planned for all units. In addition, researchers will only have to foot a quarter of the bill for the software that Gehr mentioned, with the Banner project paying the rest.

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