Commentary | Save our support staff

An open letter on McGill's terrible (and costly) restructuring plan

Last spring, Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi announced plans to amalgamate academic support staff in Leacock. At a town hall meeting on the subject in March, faculty, students, and staff expressed strong opposition to this plan, while a petition initiated by the departments of Anthropology and History and Classical Studies raised over 200 signatures protesting the proposed restructuring. Additionally, the Faculty of Arts meeting in April passed a motion against the clustering of support staff and their removal from departments. In spite of this negative feedback, the Leacock consolidation is moving ahead and other restructuring efforts are planned for Ferrier for May 2014.

In total, the departments of Economics, Political Science, Philosophy, Anthropology, Sociology, History and Classical Studies, Jewish Studies, Art History and Communication Studies, Département de langue et littérature françaises, English, French Language Centre, Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, East Asian Studies, Islamic Studies, and Social Work all stand to be affected by such measures. The precedent set here, moreover, may soon result in similar restructuring across faculties and affect all of McGill.

The displacement of departmental support staff is key to the restructuring efforts. Due to the hiring freeze and the voluntary retirement initiative of the previous year, several departments have been left without a full roster of workers. In order to make up for staffing shortages, the Dean of Arts plans to remove support staff from their existing locations within departments where they provide direct, convenient, and knowledgeable help to students and faculty. These workers would then be consolidated into six so-called “support hubs,” and asked to jointly cover the workload of several departments at once. While the current proposal was branded as People, Processes & Partnerships last Spring, the plan was actually formed in Fall 2012 and thus predates the provincial budget cuts.

Without easy access to expert support staff, the quality of our education is threatened.

We anticipate that there will be many negative consequences to this restructuring. We can expect a decline in the services and supports we rely on as students. Our departmental staff are experts at navigating the labyrinths of scholarship applications, registrations, and regulations that are highly specific to each program. We often come to them with pressing questions and tight deadlines and they do an incredible job providing us with knowledge and guidance that we would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. The proposed restructuring threatens that expert knowledge. Our existing staff, who already work full-time jobs, will be asked to take on more work and be accountable for thousands more students. We doubt that the close relationships we presently enjoy with our departmental staff can survive this. Without easy access to expert support staff, the quality of our education is threatened.

Additionally, we already know that this proposal is causing great amounts of stress and anxiety among support staff, faculty, and students. By asking staff to do more with less, the Dean of Arts is creating conditions for an unhealthy work environment. Departmental staff, some of whom have been in their positions for over 20 years, will need to relocate and retrain for an ever more demanding workload. In the November newsletter put out by McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (the union representing many of these workers), Vice President Labour Relations David Roseman addressed a rise in workload-related stress and warned that it can lead to serious health risks if unchecked. In the case of the proposed Arts/Ferrier hub, we feel that it is unfair, and perhaps even in violation of the contracts of the staff, to expect 12 people in one hub to do the work previously accomplished by 15. As a result, faculty and students will inevitably have to take on more administrative duties at the expense of our research and learning.

Finally, there is reason to suspect that this restructuring effort will fail to provide the efficiency and cost-saving benefits sought by its supporters. In addition to the physical infrastructure that must be built and renovated to create these hubs, the human resource structures of the new units must also be rewritten. Managerial, non-unionized staffing positions will be created at great cost, while the confused chain of command between students, faculty, and staff will pose a challenge to those who need to access these services. Reflecting on the bottlenecks that frequently plague the newly centralized Service Point, we feel somewhat justified in our pessimism on this point.

There is reason to suspect that this restructuring effort will fail to provide the efficiency and cost-saving benefits sought by its supporters.

Throughout the process there has also been a worrying lack of evidence presented to stakeholders to suggest the viability of this plan, whether in terms of documented cost-savings, demonstrable efficiencies, or student, staff, and faculty satisfaction with such arrangements at universities comparable to McGill. The University of Manchester is one case in which the reorganization of staff into extra-departmental “clusters” in 2006 resulted in such poor outcomes that they are currently reversing this restructuring. Professor Amelia Jones, Chair of Art History and Visual Studies at Manchester at the time, described it as “a deeply dysfunctional situation.” Noting the radical inefficiencies caused by the loss of support staff knowledge and diminished departmental morale, she writes that “the claim of efficiency is patently not borne out by the reality of what occurs.”

In light of the considerable stakes of this issue, and the lack of due consideration to the consistent negative feedback received in all public consultations to date, we would like to suggest the following three forms of action:

1) Talk about it
Many students aren’t aware of this issue or its negative consequences. Ask your student organization, faculty members, and support staff if they are concerned about the restructuring. We all stand to be affected.

2) Participate in an action
Join us for an art action that aims to put a face on austerity at McGill on Thursday December 5 at noon in McLennan Library (main lobby). We are also hosting our own town hall on Tuesday January 14, from 5:35 p.m. to 7:25 p.m. in Arts W-215, in order to promote awareness and build solidarity in our efforts to stop the forced relocation of our departmental staff.

3) Share your concerns
You can contact the instigators of the restructuring and express your thoughts about the restructuring. You can leave feedback on the administration’s People, Processes & Partnerships webpage (www.mcgill.ca/arts/facultystaff/people-processes-partnerships/project-feedback-form) or email the Dean of Arts directly at christopher.manfredi@mcgill.ca.

Click here to see the signatories

McGill Graduate Sociology Student Association (MGSSA)
Philosophy Students Association (PSA)
Department of English Students’ Association (DESA)
Abby Lippman, Professor Emerita, Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational Health
Carol E. Fraser, BA Student, German Studies, East Asian Studies
Harumi Osaki, PhD Student, East Asian Studies
Isabel Harvey, Corsaire des construits sociaux, PhD Candidate, History and Classical Studies
Scott Leydon, President, Department of English Students’ Association
Alex Mochnacki, PhD Candidate, Sociology
Joseph Sannicandro, Mobilization & Communication, AGSEM Executive Committee
Mona Luxion, PhD Candidate, School of Urban Planning
Adrienne Hurley, Associate Professor, East Asian Studies
Shaina Agbayani, SSMU Equity Commissioner
Ian Gold, Associate Professor, Philosophy and Psychiatry
Sam Noumoff, Professor, Political Science (Retired)
Justin Koh, SSMU Equity Commissioner
Amelia Jones, Professor and Grierson Chair, Art History and Communication Studies
Lerona Dana Lewis, PhD candidate, Integrated Studies in Education
Fernanda Soler, PhD Student, Integrated Studies in Education
Leah Freeman, MSW Student, School of Social Work
Robin Reid-Fraser, BA Honours Student, School of Environment
Raminder K. Saini, PhD Candidate, History and Classical Studies
Jenni Lawrence, Cultural Studies Representative, DESA
Cora-Lee Conway, PhD Student, Integrated Studies in Education
Molly Swain, BA Honours Student, McGill Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies; AMUSE Steward Delegate
rosalind hampton, PhD Candidate, Integrated Studies in Education
Gabriella Coleman, Assistant Professor, Art History and Communication Studies
Allison Jones, BA Honours Student, Anthropology
Ruthanne Huising, Assistant Professor, Management
Jacob Sagrans, PhD Candidate, Musicology
Michael Ferguson, PhD Student, History and Classical Studies
Sarah Ghabrial, PhD Candidate, History and Classical Studies
Kathi Murphy, Timetable and Scheduling Coordinator, Management
Carol Clelland, Program Administrator, Management
Hasana Sharp, Associate Professor, Philosophy
Sandra Hyde, Associate Professor, Anthropology
Darin Barney, Associate Professor, Art History and Communication Studies
Anthony Paré, Professor, Integrated Studies in Education
Christine Ross, Professor and James McGill Chair in Contemporary Art History, Art History and Communication Studies
Christy Frost, BA Honours, English Literature
Molly Sauter, PhD Student, Art History and Communication Studies
Adamantia Apostolakis, BA Honours, English
Derek Nystrom, Associate Professor, English
Monica Popescu, Associate Professor, English
David C. Hensley, Associate Professor, English
Michael Van Dussen, Assistant Professor, English
Mary Hunter, Assistant Professor, Art History and Communication Studies
Amanda Murphy, BA Student, English
Narendra Subramanian, Associate Professor, Political Science
Sandeep Banerjee, Assistant Professor, English
Wes Folkerth, Associate Professor, English
Maggie Kilgour, Molson Professor, English
Karen Huang, BA Honours Student, English Literature
Ara Osterweil, Assistant Professor, Film and Cultural Studies
Berkeley Kaite, Associate Professor, English
Tabitha Sparks, Associate Professor, English
Yael Halevi-Wise, Associate Professor, English and Jewish Studies
Brian Trehearne, Professor, English
Jamie Fumo, Associate Professor, English
Michael Angell, MA, English
Patrick Neilson, Associate Professor, English
Amalia Slobogian, EGSA PGSS Representative
Peter Gibian, Associate Professor, English
Sean Carney, Associate Professor, English
Setrag Manoukian, Associate Professor, Islamic Studies and Anthropology
Stephen Menn, Associate Professor, Philosophy
Paul Peters, Professor, Languages, Literatures and Cultures
Ned Schantz, Associate Professor, English
Miranda Hickman, Associate Professor, English
Alison Laywine, Associate Professor, Philosophy
Dorothy Ann Bray, Associate Professor, English
John Serrati, Adjunct Professor, Classical Studies
Nicholas Dew, Associate Professor, History & Classical Studies
Matthew Rettino, BA Honours Student
Alanna Thain, Associate Professsor, English
Gwyn Campbell, Canada Research Chair and Director, Indian Ocean World Centre (IOWC)
Lyudmila Parts, Associate Professor, Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
Paula Clarke, Associate Professor, History and Classical Studies
Eugenio Bolongaro, Associate Professor, Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
Trevor Ponech, Associate Professor, English
Heidi Barron, Staff, Athletics
Colleen Parish, History and Classical Studies
Robert Lecker, Professor, English
Noah Moss Brender, Philosophy
Patrick DeDauw, BA Honours Student, Cultural Studies & Communications; AMUSE Outreach Coordinator
Pierre Cambron, Technician, Network and Desktop Services McGill University
Andreas Gadmer, ICS Libraries
Casey J. McCormick, PhD Candidate, English
Josie Torres Barth, PhD Student, English
Gregory Phipps, Faculty Lecturer, English
Theresa Guihan, MA Student, English
Olivia Heaney, PhD Student, English
Kaitlynde Eaton, MA Student, English
Yuriko Furuhata, Assistant Professor, East Asian Studies
Lynda Bray, VP, MUNACA
Catherine Nygren, PhD Student, English
Eden Glasman, MA Student, English
Jonathan Sterne, Professor, Art History and Communication Studies
Carrie Rentschler, Director, Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies
Muhammad Velji, Graduate Student, Philosophy
Daniel Scott, Purchase College, SUNY
Marc Raboy, Professor and Beaverbrook Chair in Ethics, Media and Communications, Art History and Communication Studies
Sunita Nigam, PhD Student, English
Danna Petersen-Deeprose, English Literature
Miranda Hickman, Associate Professor, English
Joseph Kidney, B. Arts & Sci. Student
Genevieve Zimantas, BA Honours Student, English Literature
Greg Mikkelson, Philosophy
Adriane Epprecht, Masters Student, English Literature
Claudine Gélinas-Faucher, English
Juliana Broad
Emily Cole, MA Student, English Literature
Erin Hurley, Associate Professor, English
Storrs McCall, Professor, Philosophy
Kaitlyn Pinder, PhD Candidate, English
Darlene Fowler, Secretary, Management
Ariel Buckley, PhD Candidate, English
Sara R. Rousseau, BA Student, Philosophy
Chelsea Hamm, MA student, English
Marianne Stenbaek, Professor, English
Katherine Zien, Assistant Professor, English
Jennifer Drouin
Keegan Lathe-LeBlanc, Student, Philosophy
Kathryn Moore
Jason M. Opal, McGill University
Jason Grand, MA Student, English
Jillian Vasko, Undergraduate Student
Benjamin Gingras, Secrétaire aux finances, ASSÉ
AGSEM Executive Committee
Catherine LeGrand, Associate Professor, History and Classical Studies
Alexander Dawson, Undergraduate student, Anthropology
Miwako Uesaka, Lecturer, East Asian Studies
Christopher Lawson, MA Student, History
Katrina Van Amsterdam, MA Candidate, History and Classical Studies
Erin Bell, PhD Candidate, History and Classical Studies
Rachel Sandwell, PhD Student, History
Gavin Walker, Assistant Professor, History and East Asian Studies
Kathleen V. Gudmundsson, MA Student, History
Jessica P. Clark, Postdoctoral Fellow, History and Classical Studies
Anne Blumenthal, Social Work Association of Graduate Students Finance Coordinator & PGSS Councillor
Max Hamon, PhD Candidate, History Department
Igor Sadikov, U1 Student, Mathematics
Leta Montopoli, Graduate Student, Mathematics
Vincenza Mazzeo, PhD Candidate, History
Sam Cooper, MA student, English
Myrna Wyatt Selkirk, Associate Professor, English
Paolo Schiavini, PhD Student, Chemistry
Alissa Mazar, PhD Student, Sociology
Laurence Brunet, PhD Candidate, Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health
Nina Bonaventura, Astrophysics
Jodie Beck, PhD Candidate, East Asian Studies
Caroline Seagle, PhD Candidate, Anthropology
Denis Salter, Associate Professor, English
Fabian Lange, Associate Professor, Economics
Aaron Bartels-Swindells, University of Cambridge and Yale University
Social Work Association of Graduate Students (SWAGS)

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Signatures are still being collected for this open letter. Add your name: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/16we_DSsK4_kVqjJrhrk6_jbd0-ucMjDXv1Up2V22pX4/viewform.

For more information about the student response to the support staff restructuring, visit www.supportourstaffmcgill.wordpress.com and the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/supportourstaffmcgill.


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