News | Staff concerns brought to forefront at Town Hall

Once-a-semester forum fills to capacity

McGill staff, who outnumbered students at Tuesday’s Town Hall were eager to ask Principal Heather Munroe-Blum about unions, severance packages, and student feedback. The event attracted over 100 people, filling the MBA lounge to capacity.

McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA), President Maria Ruocco’s first question was about university salaries, and why, if they come from public funds, there has been an apparent lack of transparency about accounting details.

Ruocco’s question was particularly relevant, given the recent revelation of the hefty severance package received by one of McGill’s vice principals following an early departure – which caught the attention of mainstream media, who also attended the Town Hall.

“We are completely transparent in our relations with the government of Quebec,” said Munroe-Blum. “We did not hesitate to respond to the requests from the press.”

Ruocco was not the only person concerned with the apparent inequality in staff salary. A member of the Faculty of Medicine’s support staff brought up the issue of discrepancies in pay raises.

He made note of the recent creation of eight administrative positions that pay over $100,000, while there has been no change in the pay of the support staff.

Munroe-Blum reiterated that she did “not apologize” for the financial tactics McGill uses to attract high-level talent, and that she is “proud of our administrative and support staff.”

She also added that “this is not a negotiating table,” and that McGill benchmarks differently for different groups on a local level, without national consideration.

Another prominent concern was the issue of course and seminar evaluations by students each semester at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

After a PhD student in Islamic Studies expressed his distress over conflicts of interest with graduate supervisors and a lack of positive feedback, Adrian Kaats, a PhD in Biomedical Engineering and VP External of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society, approached the microphone with his own suggestions.

For a graduate student, he explained, a positive relationship with a supervisor is key to completing one’s studies on time, and avoiding high dropout and distress rates.

He also pointed to the lack of a feedback mechanism for graduate students, following a removal of formal professor evaluations after the dissolution of the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

This is a symptom, according to Kaats, of a “general decentralization at McGill.”

“Every department and unit has its own way of doing things,” Kaats said. “The difficulty is figuring out how to implement it, given the nature of politics and policies at McGill.”

Kaats suggested that students be allowed to sit on the tenure review board, especially for younger faculty members who have different attitudes toward their own research and the importance of facilitating a graduate student’s research.

Lawrence Mysak, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, echoed Kaats in his call for professor evaluations that are anonymously handed to the professor immediately, at all levels of study, with results being publicly available.

And while the handful of students who showed up appreciated the concept of Town Halls at which they can interact with the administration, more needs to be done to make students feel a part of the university community, according to Andreas Birkbak, an Arts Exchange student.

“It’s easy to use the community rhetoric. [But] the administration needs to prove that they are receptive.”