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McGill Reporter
November 11, 2004 - Volume 37 Number 05
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To the Editor:

At a recent meeting of the McGill Senate, Associate Vice-Principal (Communications) Jennifer Robinson requested input from senators about possible new features in the Reporter. She agreed with my suggestion that the Reporter might become a place where faculty, staff and students could discuss and debate issues of concern to the university community, in addition to its "good news" function, which seems to predominate. She also noted that the letters section can be used for this purpose until a more formal section is developed.

I would like to propose that we take advantage of this opening, and bring to the Reporter comments or opinions about a variety of university issues about which we hear very little. Some of these issues, in no particular order, are

1. The effects of the construction of the new Glen Yards MUHC Hospital, and the disappearance of the Royal Victoria Hospital: This will be a major change. Although this will be an opportunity to have a new, first-class teaching hospital and to attract top medical and research personnel, it will divert significant financial, human and research resources to the new site, away from the downtown campus.

2. The educational experience of McGill students: Are teaching introductory courses in very large and necessarily impersonal classes the right way to organize the education of some of the best and brightest students from Canada and elsewhere? Are students taught by experienced professors who direct exciting and up-to-date research, or by lecturers and TAs? Are students becoming more stressed as grades are increasingly being used as the primary indicator of success, dividing them into "winners" and "losers"? What would be the effects on students if tuition fees were to rise significantly?

3. Campus life: Are the diversity and needs of the students and staff well served by a food services policy that strives mostly for efficiency and uniformity? Are the new regulations on student demonstrations compatible with optimal expression of student opinions on political issues?

4. Working conditions: Can Facilities Management better organize on-time responses to problems in building temperatures that predictably occur as we shift seasons? Are we sufficiently informed about health and safety issues? Do McGill employees have adequate access to child care?

5. The effects of massive hiring of new faculty members: How can we integrate all these new professors into the university and help them to succeed? Will they be able to establish research programs as well as take over the teaching of the increasing numbers of students?

I would like to encourage all readers to begin a forum on these and other issues by submitting letters to the editor of the Reporter. Universities should be places where individuals are encouraged to debate important issues that affect our lives and will determine our future as an outstanding university. Let's help the Reporter serve this function for us!

Nicholas H. Acheson
Department of Microbiology and Immunology

To the Editor:

Over the weekend of October 16–17, the undersigned hosted a small scientific meeting in Burnside Hall for approximately 45 participants (in addition to a number of McGill students). We have just received an utterly outrageous bill from the Conference Centre for about $2,800. For such a small conference, this is absurd, and we believe that they are attempting to charge us for the entire cost of operating Burnside Hall for a weekend. We were billed for 21.5 hours of ventilation. Our total occupancy of the building was 19 hours (from 8:30 am till 11 pm on Saturday and 8:30 am till 1 pm on Sunday), but we were told that daytime hours would not be billed since the building is heavily used by students and ventilation must be provided in any case. Then there is a charge of nearly $1,000 for a "porter". As far as we can tell, the only thing — absolutely the only thing — the porter did was to unlock the classroom both mornings, and I have little doubt we could have made other arrangements to have that done.

During the past 25 years, we have held, I believe, at least 10 similar meetings. The early ones cost us nothing, since the university clearly took the view that holding these meetings was a legitimate function of any university with pretensions to supporting research. More recently, we have paid modest fees of a few hundred dollars. Unless this bill is reduced to a more reasonable level, we have no choice but to conclude that we can hold no future meetings at McGill.

Michael Barr
Peter Redpath Emeritus Professor of Pure Mathematics

Michael Makkai
Peter Redpath Professor of Pure Mathematics

Robert A.G. Seely
Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics & Statistics

Response from Ancillary Services

The $2,800 charge to the Department of Mathematics includes charges relating to HVAC for a total of 12 hours, not the 21.5 claimed. It also contains charges for the services of cleaners and porters, facility rental/coordination, food catering and taxes. I believe that the organizers were informed of these charges well in advance of hosting their event. This said, there are certain buildings on campus that operate under extended hours. Using these buildings for after-hours and weekend events could serve to save event organizers some of the "standard" facilities costs.

Building hours are established by the building director within the general guidelines set by the university. At the "official" closing time, the building goes into "silent hours" mode. On Saturday, Sunday, statutory holidays and any other holidays so designated in the McGill calendar, buildings will normally be considered closed.

Any unit that uses a building during these "silent hours" is required to pay for porter services and post-event cleaning to ensure the space is returned to normal for the next day of classes. This policy is applied to all groups across campus. The costs associated with a custodial presence during "silent hours" were, I believe, discussed at Senate (March 12, 2003). At that time, the Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration) noted they would continue indefinitely.

For safety and hygienic reasons, all special events taking place outside normal hours at McGill receive custodial support throughout an event. The support given is by the custodian assigned to "porter service" and includes (but is not exclusive to):

  • The opening and closing of rooms (and buildings, if warranted);
  • The policing of public areas to ensure cleanliness and safety;
  • The constant monitoring of bathrooms and bathroom supplies;
  • The disposal of waste and recycling generated by the event;
  • Assisting the event coordi-nator with custodial response to spills, etcetera; and
  • First response aids in difficult situations, as well as liaison to essential services — both life safety and fire safety issues. This presence is also required to provide the basic requirements for insurance and risk management coverage for the university.

This practice has been in place since 1997 and I understand has been consistently applied since that time.

Alan Charade
Ancillary Services

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