The Commission on Francophone Affairs (CAF) recently finalized a proposal to be presented to the Principal’s Task Force on Diversity, Excellence, and Community Engagement.
The CAF is the SSMU body responsible for promoting francophone culture and rights at McGill.
The proposal addresses the “University’s disconnect from its immediate population, namely the province of Quebec.” It suggests that the University offer a majority of 200-level courses in French as well as English. It also proposes that a third of professors hired demonstrate French-language competence.
However, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson felt many francophone students wanted to take courses in English. “Many francophones who come to McGill come here because they want to improve their English,” he said.
Citing his experience as a McGill professor, Mendelson added that “typically, very few students exercise that right [to submit work and exams in French].”
Manon Lemelin, the first-year assistant for francophone students, also questioned the need for French-language 200-level courses.
She said that the francophone students she meets with tell her they enrol at McGill to “to learn and perfect their English.”
Isabelle Daunais, director of undergraduate studies at the Département de langue et littérature françaises, suggested that departments should make their own decisions regarding language of instruction.
“[I] rarely hear students complain about the lack of French-language courses in other departments. [For students in our department, attending classes in English] is a special challenge worth taking on.”
Others were thrilled by the CAF’s proposal.
“I think it’s a very good idea,” said Marion Vergues, a French professor at the English and French Language Centre.
But Vergues expressed concerns that the level of language would need to be lowered for non-francophone students taking classes in French.
Vergues suggested solving this problem by integrating a language-learning component into French-language courses for non-francophones. “The English and French Language Centre would be the best-positioned [unit] to develop this kind of inter-faculty relationship,” she added.
As for hiring French-speaking professors, Mendelson said language is not a priority. Explaining that McGill is a “world class university,” Mendelson said faculties try to recruit the best possible professors – based on their qualifications, the quality of their research, and their teaching abilities.
“We’re trying to serve students as well as our resources permit,” Mendelson added.
Mendelson explained that current priorities are the translation of important information and documents like the Handbook on Student Rights and Responsibilities, and ensuring that everyone can hand in work and exams in French.
This year, McGill is offering French-language beginning- and intermediate-level courses in the Canadian studies, political science, electrical engineering, and earth and planetary sciences programs, as well as in the Faculty of Education.
— translated from French by William M. Burton