McGill’s Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) held its first Council meeting of the new year this past Wednesday, with a visit from the Provost and electoral reform at the top of the agenda.
A visit from the Provost
Provost Anthony Masi – whose position encompasses roles as both chief academic officer and chief budget officer of the University – made a guest appearance, and took the opportunity to take questions from graduate students and outline McGill’s strategic vision for the next few years.
One question aimed to determine if McGill was going to take any action to improve the state of graduate student supervision.
“Supervision is the single most important issue on campus,” said Masi, indicating that the data from anonymous surveys of graduate students signals that improving the quality of graduate supervision is a standout issue.
The University has begun its campaign to improve supervision with a new webpage that states the roles and responsibilities of a supervising professor and provides resources on interaction with supervisees and “recognizing student diversity.”
“This list of skill sets will be later included in staff training days,” said Masi, adding that “most of the time, professors forget that they were once graduate students too.”
His presentation, meanwhile, centred on the University’s actions regarding recent budget cuts and allocations – cuts that have, among other outcomes, closed down libraries and resulted in incentivized retirement programs for staff.
Outlining the finances of the University, Masi said, “Over the last two years, we’ve added $30 million in deficit to our operating budget. But we have to pay that deficit back in five years, which means that we have to balance our books, and $5 million a year has to be used to pay back that deficit.”
Masi also outlined the mentality underlying budget cuts.
“You have to make a decision about allocations based on your academic priorities,” Masi said. “Those priorities come out of Achieving Strategic Academic Priorities (ASAP), the University’s academic white paper.”
Moving on to McGill’s financial situation, the Provost focused on choices about budget allocation.
“What we’re asking all of the units to do is not to try to replicate what they were doing before [the cuts] but to make conscious choices,” Masi said. “Do we have to do everything we’re doing? Can we do the things that we are doing differently? How can we be more efficient in the way we work?”
PGSS also finalized the remainder of the rewriting of some electoral rules. This was part of an effort to resolve contradictions between the society’s practices and their activities manual.
According to PGSS Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney, “We wanted everything to be crystal clear so as to make sure that no one was doubting our legitimacy – we don’t want to appear to be an illegitimate students’ society.”
PGSS’ Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Colby Briggs confirmed that, “The intent of these changes was, by and large, to bring the Society’s Activities Manual in line with practical application.”
He added that a mechanism was added for the CRO to enforce electoral regulations by penalizing rule-breaking candidates through “financial or time-based incentives” (in other words, fines or volunteer hours), instead of disqualifying them.