As of January 1, 2014, support staff from the departments of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures (LLC) and East Asian Studies (EAS) are working from a new administrative service centre located at 688 Sherbrooke. While the move was deemed necessary because of building concerns on McTavish, the ‘hubbing’ of the support staff for LLC and EAS is part of a bigger plan set to affect 13 departments in the Faculty of Arts. For nearly a year, students, faculty and departmental support staff have voiced their concerns regarding this plan, dubbed by the McGill Administration as “People, Processes, and Partnerships” (PPP). On Tuesday, January 14, Support Our Staff at McGill is calling for a town hall meeting to plan to stop the PPP.
We are told by Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi that this plan is an unavoidable response to provincial budget cuts. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the numbers don’t add up and that the PPP will result in the overwork of crucial department members.
While McGill proclaims a narrative of financial desperation, those with a more critical view of McGill’s budget, like Justin Marleau (former Vice-President of AGSEM: McGill’s Teaching Union), suggest that changes in accounting practices over the years have produced skewed budgetary reports. These are then used to justify cuts to courses, teaching support budgets, libraries, and jobs across campus.
In the wake of these austerity measures, our education is suffering. Indeed, last semester the McGill Administration closed two libraries and we lost 27 library assistants. Now Dean Manfredi is set to impose the PPP, despite the considerable negative feedback raised by students, faculty, and staff during several town halls held by the administration in March, April, and September; in pieces published in The Daily; in a petition circulated by students; and a vote conducted by the Arts Faculty meeting last April. In the meantime, little evidence has been presented of any changes to the PPP on the basis of this feedback, neither has it been demonstrated that the PPP even stands to be an effective or viable form of organizing administrative labour.
During the December 4 council meeting of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), members supported a motion opposing the PPP after discussing its negative effects on departmental integrity and on the well-being of the affected support staff. Before the vote, Manfredi assured PGSS councillors that their departments would maintain their autonomous functioning. However, the physical proximity of staff, collegial environments, and reasonable workloads are key parts of any department’s internal culture and autonomy. As students, we also rely on our support staff for expert knowledge and timely assistance. How could autonomy or efficiency survive this restructuring? Moreover, where is the autonomy in effectively forcing departments to comply with the PPP?
By suggesting that the PPP is the only solution, Manfredi is reorganizing the Faculty of Arts without due consideration to evidence-based best practices or the input of the affected departments and students. For example, does it make sense to hub Political Science and Economics together? These are the two largest departments in the Faculty of Arts and they will be merged along with Philosophy into a single hub serving nearly 3,000 students. The PPP in its current form might resolve staffing gaps for Manfredi, but it risks creating considerable problems in terms of access and workload in the wake of its restructuring.
We implore Dean Manfredi to look beyond floor plans and staffing charts to see the wave of opposition growing against the PPP. The Arts Undergraduate Society council also adopted motions concerning the plan and the Students’ Society of McGill University council is preparing to debate a motion against the PPP later this month. An open letter published in The Daily last semester, with nearly 200 signatories, including several student associations, is still collecting signatures.
On January 14 from 5:35 p.m. to 7:35 p.m. in Arts W-215, please join us for an action-oriented discussion between all the stakeholders of this issue. We hope to hear from staff, faculty, and students in order to promote awareness and build solidarity in our efforts to stop the forced relocation of our departmental staff.
Support Our Staff at McGill is a student-led group of concerned members of the McGill community who are opposed to the displacement and overwork of academic support staff. Find them online at supportourstaffmcgill.wordpress.com and follow SOS-McGill on Facebook and Twitter.