News | Graduate students’ issues addressed at Senate

Senators talk Trump’s ‘Muslim ban,’ Black History Month

On Wednesday, February 15, the McGill Senate convened for its sixth meeting of the 2016-2017 academic year.
Senators discussed a question regarding graduate student teaching at McGill, a motion regarding the annual celebration of Black History Month, had a lengthy discussion regarding the “McGill University Strategic Academic Plan 2017-2020,” and heard reports from a number of committees.

Opening remarks

In her opening address, Principal Suzanne Fortier mentioned her meeting with other heads of Quebec universities and the Ministers of Finance and Education in December, largely to discuss what is needed for the government to better support its universities.

Fortier noted that the Quebec government had instituted austerity measures which hurt universities, but said, “now that we’ve passed this period, we made the case to the Minister of Finance that it is time now to reinvest in universities.”

The Principal further noted that the ministers seemed to understand this request.

In her opening address, Principal Suzanne Fortier mentioned her meeting with other heads of Quebec universities and the Ministers of Finance and Education in December, largely to discuss what is needed for the government to better support its universities.

Following Fortier’s remarks, one senator asked what the University has done and will do for refugees, in light of the recent executive order from U.S. President Donald Trump, which banned refugees, and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.
In response, Provost and VP Academic Christopher Manfredi said that “some of the measures we put in place for students affected by the executive order were already in place for refugees.”

Kathleen Massey, university registrar and executive director of enrolment services, added that “refugees often encounter some unique problems […]. There are often challenges related to just ensuring official documentation which may have been destroyed through war or other serious matters. So we practice a level of flexibility around documentation for example.”

Massey noted that these measures were already in place prior to the executive order. She further added that for those students who may have dire financial difficulties, the University either waives or refunds their application fee.

Manfredi also added that the University “recently entered into a partnership with the Al Ghurair Foundation based in the United Arab Emirates. That foundation has a mission […] to provide educational opportunities for students from the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] region mostly, from underprivileged backgrounds as well as from refugee areas, provide them access to high quality secondary as well as post-secondary education.”

There are often challenges related to just ensuring official documentation which may have been destroyed through war or other serious matters. So we practice a level of flexibility around documentation for example.”

Manfredi elaborated that following Trump’s executive order, the University reached out to the foundation to see if “they needed [McGill’s] assistance either to place students from those seven countries or to place students from other countries in the region who might find it difficult going to the United States, whether because of their country of origin or refugee status.”

Graduate students teaching

Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Academic Affairs Officer Nicholas Dunn brought a question to Senate asking what the University is doing to ensure a better distribution of courses that graduate students can teach, and if the University is willing to guarantee at least one teaching opportunity for all incoming PhD students.

The question largely concerned the Collective Agreement between McGill and the Course Lecturers and Instructors Union (MCLIU), which allows the University to reserve up to fifteen per cent of courses not allocated to ranked academic staff for graduate students. However, there is a widespread belief that graduate students still lack teaching opportunities, according to Dunn.

Manfredi had provided a written answer to the question prior to the Senate meeting.

Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Academic Affairs Officer Nicholas Dunn brought a question to Senate asking what the University is doing to ensure a better distribution of courses that graduate students can teach.

Dunn referred to this answer initially: “I take your point insofar as there’s a technical point to be made which is that these [positions] can be reserved for a range of individuals, of which graduate students are a part. But I hope that you can understand the spirit of the question, which is that many people are concerned about the way in which the allocation of course exclusions will affect their graduate programs.”

“You say that grad students are free to apply to the courses that are posted, and this is of course true,” Dunn continued, “however, if they arrived after the collective agreement, they have zero points and so there’s no way for them to [enter] into the system, and even those who were here before but don’t have as many points as those who have been course lecturers for longer will never get any courses.”

In response, Manfredi said “the annual distribution of [teaching positions for graduate students is] recalibrated on an annual basis, and it’s recalibrated first of all on the basis of consultation with faculties to determine their needs, and I think we’re in a learning process.”

“I think the faculties are getting better at determining their needs […] so I think that’s part of the learning process, and at the provostial level, we’re in a learning process and getting better at how we do those allocations,” Manfredi continued.

Referencing the reserve clause in the collective agreement, Manfredi added that “to negotiate an agreement like this, there are many different faculties, with many different types of teaching needs and teaching program delivery styles, and you have to have a clause that accommodates all those different needs.”

“I hope that you can understand the spirit of the question, which is that many people are concerned about the way in which the allocation of course exclusions will affect their graduate programs.”

Senator Tetyana Krupiy, a postdoctoral scholar, then asked if it would be possible to receive the distribution of these positions by faculty and explanation for the distribution.

She further referenced Fortier’s discussion about the Business Higher Education round table, where the University discussed with local businesses how to further increase engagement and work opportunities for students.

“This is a real example of how [the University’s] not doing that, and where we can, we should. I speak as a graduate program director of a department that has 120 doctoral students but only five positions, so I urge you to reconsider these kinds of opportunities and make them available to our doctoral students,” Krupiy said.

Another senator asked if there was room in negotiations to recognize the different structure of faculties, as “some faculties clearly have permanent lecturers who require job protection and in whose interest the union exists, and other faculties may have an overarching need to give training to their students, and it seems to me the problem is that it’s not capturing that diversity.”

“I think the faculties are getting better at determining their needs […] so I think that’s part of the learning process, and at the provostial level, we’re in a learning process and getting better at how we do those allocations,” Manfredi continued.

Manfredi noted that the University will honor the agreement it signed with MCLIU, but when the agreement comes up for renegotiations “those are things we can take into account.”

Black History Month motion

Arts Senator Charles Keita brought a motion to Senate that asked “that McGill officially celebrates Black History Month,” in his words.

“Until this year there was no official body on the campus that celebrated it. This year that mantle was taken up by [the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office] and I have to say that they did a great job for the events that I’ve gone to and the community definitely seems to have enjoyed them. To keep it going, I propose this motion so that it is followed through that we do this every year and it doesn’t become a rare occurrence that McGill celebrates Black History Month,” Keita elaborated.
The motion passed unanimously.


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