Senate: The long goodbye

Senate: The long goodbye McGill University

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McGill Reporter
May 27, 2004 - Volume 36 Number 17
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 36: 2003-2004 > May 27, 2004 > Senate: The long goodbye

Senate: The long goodbye

Parting is such sweet sorrow, and at their last meeting of the academic year, senators put off their final goodbyes for as long as possible. With an agenda packed with reports and motions for Senate's approval, the May 19 meeting lasted three hours.

"When the steering committee asks you to be chair they don't tell you what's on the agenda, and I see we have the research on human subjects report, the harassment policy, a French-language policy and the draft budget," noted dean of music Don McLean, with a hint of resignation.

The first item on the agenda was a motion from SSMU VP (University Affairs) Andrew Bryan, who was attending his first meeting. His first motion to Senate was a somewhat controversial one. He proposed that the statutes governing student representation on Senate be amended to strike the requirement that student members be full-time students. Two of the student representatives on Senate are SSMU executives (who are generally part-time students during their term in office), and it has been some time since those seats have been occupied by full-time students.

Bryan's proposed motion also dropped the requirement that students be registered in a degree or diploma program. This prompted Morton Mendelson to propose an amendment to Bryan's motion that would reinstate that requirement.

Bryan pointed out that McGill undergraduate students pay fees to both the university and the SSMU whether they are in a degree program or not. To deny them the possibility of Senate representation by SSMU executives "would not be equitable."

Nick de Takacsy spoke in favour of Mendelson's amendment saying that "academics and research represent the core mission of the university," and to have students without academic affiliation "would not be appropriate."

Director of Libraries Fran Groen said that SSMU executives are selected in fair and open elections by their peers.

"I feel students are eminently capable of selecting their representation on this body," she said.

In the end, the amendment was defeated, and Bryan's original motion passed unchanged.

After moving into confidential session to discuss honorary degree candidates, Senate tackled the report "Ethical and Legal Aspects of Research Involving Human Subjects Conducted in the Faculty of Medicine and Affiliated Hospitals -- Policies and Procedures." The discussion was not much longer than the document's title.

Dean of Medicine Abe Fuks explained that the document had been revised to reflect recent changes in law in Quebec and the United States. Most of these had to do with research involving children and others without legal capacity to assent to research. Research protocols involving such subjects will no longer be able to have expedited review processes. Also, the membership of research ethics boards needed to be made explicit in the document.

Dean Martha Crago asked if the changes to Quebec law regarding research in children would have an impact on researchers in faculties such as education or in the arts. Fuks replied that Vice-Principal (Research) Louise Proulx was looking at that very issue. If it did, it would require changes to the university-wide policy on human- subject research.

Provost Luc Vinet delivered a report on the harassment policy committee. That committee would not, as promised to Senate, have a full policy ready, as changes in Quebec law had necessitated a change in approach. Nor would the promised equity office be set up until sometime in the fall.

Vinet also informed Senate that changes in Quebec's language policy now require McGill to communicate all official written communications with the government in French. All supplementary documents can be submitted in the language generated, unless a French translation exists. He stated that was not much different from current practice, prompting Sam Noumoff to ask why McGill had wasted time on the issue.

"Sometimes the government forces us to waste our time," said Vinet.

"You'll be quoted on that," replied Noumoff presciently.

Senate then moved into committee of the whole to discuss the draft budget for the 2004—2005 academic year. The first budget in the university's new approach of multi-year planning, it calls for an $8-million deficit this year, decreasing in following years until a small surplus is reached by year five.

"This is an upfront investment in our future," said Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration) Morty Yalovsky, who said that the deficit will be "controlled and manageable."

The budget was drawn on some aggressive assumptions of revenue growth. Enrolment is expected to increase over 7 percent over the next five years, while both federal and provincial funding is expected to increase substantially over the same period. A planned capital campaign will also lead to more funding. That said, by the end of the five-year plan, the accumulated deficit is expected to be roughly $40 million.

Most of the questions from Senate centred on the assumptions made about enrolment, especially in whether the university would be able to handle so many more students. Senator Kohur GowriSankaran pointed out that his department could take hundreds more students, but for the lack of equipment and space. Senator Bruce Acheson asked what priorities were being served by increasing enrolment.

"Are we taking more students to get more money?" he asked.

Vinet said that there was a combination of factors involved in determining how many students McGill takes: it works for the university "to realize certain academic goals we need to generate revenues," he said, adding that some programs need a minimum number of students to create a productive classroom atmosphere.

"Globally it makes sense to graduate a certain amount of students to have the impact it wants internationally," he added.

Alan Shaver, dean of science, congratulated the administration for moving forward with "an expansionary budget."

"In fact, I'd like to see the university borrow more money for capital projects," he said.

As a member of the Board of Governors, Morton Mendelson had some criticism that the complete budget was not circulated to Senators, instead of the 15-page summary document.

"I'm very disappointed. Now that we're in the planning process, Senate should have received the whole document."

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