Senate: A moving (and seconding) occasion

Senate: A moving (and seconding) occasion McGill University

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McGill Reporter
June 1, 2006 - Volume 38 Number 18
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Senate: A moving (and seconding) occasion

The final Senate meeting of the year is always bittersweet: So much accomplished over the year, yet the weighty bulk of the documents to be considered promising so much yet undone. At 2:30 on May 24, a parade of familiar faces filed in — over the year, some had been adversaries, some movers, others loyal seconders. Dean Don McLean sat in his usual corner, poised by the far door should a discreet early exit be necessary, Tony Masi in the front, presumably with a spring loaded cushion for the many questions he would soon stand to face, Senator GowriSankaran in the back with his eagle eye for the smallest discrepancy in an otherwise routine report. And regally in front, the Principal and chair of it all, Heather Munroe-Blum.

Question period was relatively brief, covering retention programs for female academics and moving to an electronic distribution of Senate documents.

Senator Ewa Krajewska also queried the uneven rates research assistants are paid at McGill. The dapper Vice-Principal Denis Therien took this one, explaining that as students are usually paid for by grants, differences are usually due to what the grant applicant requests for student remuneration. It was politely agreed that perhaps the Research Grants Office could look into updating their guidelines.

At this point, Senate went into a confidential session to discuss the draft budget for next year and honorary degree recipients. In the hallway, speculation crossed this reporter's mind as to what was transpiring behind the doors of the Robert Vogel room. Idle fantasies drifted though this reporter's mind as he nibbled on the complimentary Senatorial cookies until roughly an hour after the 45-minute confidential session began, when observers were allowed back into chambers.

Tony Masi introduced the report of the Senate nominating committee. Noting that the report said one professor was being replaced while recuperating from surgery, Masi said that this was the first time the report had come with explanations.

"Sorry, I got a little carried away," came a voice from the front.

"How's he doing?" asked a Senator to laughter.

"Well, we hope," retorted Masi.

A move to an online course evaluation system (to be named Mercury, to join Mars and Minerva atop the McGill's online Olympus) was greeted with delight and passed easily despite the lukewarm statistical endorsement offered by Masi: "We cannot say for certain that this system has no bias, but we couldn't say that about the paper system either. However, we can say it doesn't have a different bias."

Jacques Hurtubise then presented the full-time academic staff counts for Senate's information. Nigel Roulet questioned the numbers, pointing out that his School of the Environment had more than one faculty member.

"Faculty don't always come in integer units," replied Hurtubise, explaining that professors are often counted in halves.

"Well, we actually have 6.33 professors," said Roulet, precisely.

Hurtubise confessed that until then he was unaware that professors also came in thirds (perhaps part of an innovation to meet the MSE mandate to reduce, reuse and recycle?) and said that the discrepancy is likely due to professors being counted with their primary faculty affiliations, rather than their school affiliations.

After the presentation of the staff numbers, the Senate went into a committee of the whole to discuss the progress report of the Principal's Task Force on Student Life and Learning.

Munroe-Blum relinquished her position as chair to take questions from the floor. Though not yet complete, so far the Report has made three major recommendations. The first dealt with a perceived need for improved academic advising. This could be accomplished by ensuring every department has at least one full or part-time advisor and university-wide standards for adviser to student ratios.

The second recommendation dealt with funding and financial assistance, where the Task Force is recommending, perhaps unsurprisingly, more funding for graduate students and financial assistance for undergraduates. The report notes that the university has taken steps in this direction, offering bursaries to qualified incoming students for the first time.

The third recommendation was to create a position in the senior academic administration with responsibility for student life and learning, which would create a strong voice for students at the highest levels of the University.

A routine passing of the report of the Board of Governors to Senate was the all-too-sudden denouement to the nearly three-hour session. Wiping a tear from his eye, wishing he could join the Senators hugging each other goodbye and bidding each other courage in the face of a Senate-free summer, this reporter left what was potentially his last Senate meeting ever, heavy-hearted and bereft.

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