Corrections appended March 18, 2013.
An open forum on the termination of over 100 Arts classes was held in the Madeleine Parent room in the Shatner building on Thursday. The forum was organized by the Anthropology Students’ Association (ASA), and included members of McGill’s administration, students, and faculty.
“It is clear that students and faculty are frustrated with the state of higher education within Quebec, frustrated with the lack of transparent discussions about the 8 per cent Arts cuts, and frustrated with the rampant uncertainty in the upper administration,” ASA VP Internal Mercedes Sharpe, who was present at the forum, told The Daily by email.
Dean of Students André Costopoulos told the forum that the main reason for the cuts was to better teaching in Arts in the context of increasingly limited resources.
“In an ideal world I’d like to see all classes being small seminars, that would be fantastic. We also live in a real world of resource constraints where we have 7,000 students to 270 professors,” Costopoulos said.
The cuts will target under-enrolled classes capped at 20-30 students, will help equalize workloads between professors, consolidate similar classes, and allow for reinvestment in Teaching Assistants (TAs) and student services.
Most of the classes up for elimination are taught by course-lecturers, whose union representatives did not speak at the forum. Costopoulos mentioned in passing a desire at the administrative level to make more course-lecturers full-time teaching faculty.
SSMU VP External Robin Reid-Fraser asked Costopoulos why the budget cuts imposed earlier this year by the Parti Québécois (PQ) government were not being spread out over a longer amount of time.
According to Reid-Fraser, the PQ proposed at the education summit in February that only a certain percentage of the cuts would have to be implemented now, and that universities could take the cuts as deficit.
Costopoulos responded that getting into debt with the hopes of getting funded later was not a good idea.
“The government says I’m giving you leave to go into more debt and if you do that in three to four years, we’re going to start giving you money back; meanwhile you’re accumulating more and more debt. Should that money not come in, you’re going to be in trouble. In the past 200 years we have accumulated a $100-million deficit, now we’re facing $40 million in two years,” Costopoulos said.
Justin Marleau, Vice-President (Teaching Assistants) of AGSEM – McGill’s Teaching Union, voiced the concerns of TAs facing the budget cuts.
“Ever since 2007 we have seen a decline in the amount of the overall revenue that the university has been putting toward teaching assistants,” Marleau said.
Associate Dean (Academic Administration and Oversight) Gillian Lane-Mercier said that while there would be 101 fewer courses in 2013-14, the teaching assistant budget has been increased by 16 per cent.
Students at the forum pointed out that they were concerned with the amount of input students had in university affairs. Costopoulos responded by saying that he believed that students have an important voice, and pointed to committees and working groups that students have a voice in.
“Students are represented in the Faculty Council, the Senate, et cetera,” Costopoulos said. “The problem is filling the student seats in these committees.”
More information about the cuts to Arts classes will be announced by the administration in the next two weeks.
The print version of this article incorrectly stated that the forum was organized by the Political Science Students Association (PSSA), included a misleading headline, and a misleading paragraph concerning the administrative aim of the cuts.