Senate approved a controversial policy on late withdrawals at its January 21 meeting. The policy, which was debated but not voted on at the previous meeting, will allow a student to remove the courses and grades for an entire term from the official transcript if the student withdrew from all classes under exceptional circumstances. In response to students’ questions, members of the administration also clarified the University’s stances on international tuition deregulation.
Policy on late withdrawals
The proposed policy on late withdrawals, originally brought to Senate at its December 3 meeting as part of the report of the Academic Policy Committee, came to Senate for approval again. It had not been voted on at the last meeting, as Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures & Equity) Lydia White withdrew the motion to approve the policy due to heavy debate and an apparent inability to reach a consensus.
“I think it is good that we managed to find a compromise here […] and I’m definitely happy [that the policy passed].”
Although several faculty senators reiterated concerns about preserving the “integrity” of the transcript, most interventions were in favour of the policy.
Responding to Arts Faculty Senator Catherine Lu, who had said that helping students deal with a difficult time was a poor rationale for altering the transcript, Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Ollivier Dyens noted that it is “the responsibility of the University to support [students],” something it already does “all the time” by providing mental health services or making accommodations in class.
Arts Faculty Senator Philip Oxhorn argued that although explanatory notes can accompany the transcript for graduate school or employment applications, those means are often insufficient to ensure fair treatment. “Sometimes too much knowledge is counterproductive,” he said. “We can have all sorts of amendments [to the transcript], but they don’t get read.”
Speaking on behalf of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Senate caucus, SSMU VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan praised the policy as a “significant step” in supporting students. She added that earlier, the SSMU caucus had suggested amending the policy with a three-year mandatory review clause – an amendment that White, the mover, had deemed friendly.
Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Academic Affairs Officer Jennifer Murray, however, was not in support of the policy. She expressed worry that discarding grades of W for some students and not others would weigh more heavily on the students who must keep them on their transcript, and as such have the “opposite effect” of the one intended.
The policy passed, with about two-thirds of senators in favour and two abstentions.
In an interview with The Daily, SSMU Arts Senator Jacob Greenspon expressed satisfaction with the result as a step toward more effective support for students.
“It’s very important to note that this is definitely not the end of the road. The major opposition we had to it last Senate is because we felt this policy didn’t go far enough,” he said. “I think it is good that we managed to find a compromise here […] and I’m definitely happy [that the policy passed].”
International tuition deregulation
In response to a question from SSMU senators asking McGill to clarify its stance on the deregulation of international tuition, Provost Anthony Masi stated that the University has been lobbying the Quebec government for the full deregulation of tuition fees from international students in all programs.
International tuition was deregulated for applied sciences, mathematics, engineering, computer science, management, and law in 2008, meaning that McGill has access to the supplementary fee paid by non-Quebec students that is normally redistributed by the government. The University is pushing for this deregulation in all other programs.
When pressed by SSMU Arts Senator Kareem Ibrahim on whether or not students had been consulted when establishing this position, Masi insisted that the University has openly held this position for some time. “It has been our policy for six years that deregulation is the right road to follow,” said Masi.
However, Stewart-Kanigan told The Daily that the University’s stance on the issue had been unclear to student representatives and was likely not familiar to the student body as a whole.
“We have the information that we need now to conduct our own consultation with international students and disseminate this information,” said Stewart-Kanigan.
“More programs have moved toward deregulation [in the last six years], so international students are now actually paying those significantly higher tuition [fees],” she continued. “Now would be an appropriate time to look critically at that stance again and see what students are thinking, because deregulation is not [just] an idea now, it’s something that students are actually experiencing.”
Greenspon echoed Stewart-Kanigan’s assessment. “There’s definitely been whispers of this, [but] this is probably the first time they’ve come out,” he said. “I really hope that there’s a better way that can be found here to fund the university without putting more of that burden on students’ backs.”