At senate last Wednesday, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum announced that she had met with the board of the organization representing Quebec’s university bosses – or CREPUQ – the previous day to consolidate the message she would be bringing to the Rencontres des partenaires de l’éducation.
One-hundred-thirty to one-hundred-forty groups and individuals will participate in the day-long Rencontres, an annual education policy meeting, on December 6. Thirty people will sit at a special table to deliberate on three key themes: accessibility, performance and funding.
The four major student lobbying groups, various trade union representatives, several private sector representatives, and three MNAs from the provincial opposition parties – Parti Quebecois, Action démocratique du Québec, and Québec Solidaire – will be in attendance. (See Page 5)
Munroe-Blum will bring two colleagues from other universities with her and stressed that she will not be there to represent McGill’s point of view.
“We will not be there as individuals or representing individual institutions – we will be there to represent the CREPUQ framework,” she told Senate.
CREPUQ’s position is premised on their assertion that the Quebec university system is underfunded and falling behind the rest of Canada. According to Munroe-Blum, Quebec is “dramatically behind on high school graduation rates and dramatically behind university participation and degree completion rates.”
A report released last week by the Fédération étudiante universitaire de Québec (FEUQ) found that nearly fifty per cent of full-time undergraduates abandoned or interrupted their studies for financial reasons. (See page 5)
The CREPUQ position thus far has been increasing tuition rates “while maintaining a strong commitment to accessibility,” in Munroe-Blum’s words.
“It would be a complete miss if all groups didn’t come together on a common front,” she said. The administration has been “working with student groups over the last week to see if we can’t get a common message,” Munroe-Blum continued. On November 10, the principal met with a handful of SSMU executives to discuss the financing of Quebec universities and tuition.
VP University Affairs Joshua Abaki does not think that student groups and the administration would agree on the need for tuition increases, but did point to some common ground.
“We are both opposed to Bill 100. We both definitely believe that the federal and provincial governments need to invest more in post-secondary education, and that universities should be able to keep a greater share of the subsidies – of the amount of money that they get due to increased tuition, but then with a cap,” he said.
At Senate, Abaki asked McGill administrators to reaffirm their commitment to promises made in the Principal’s Task Force on Excellence, Diversity and Community, Engagement (PTSFLL), a 2005 document that appeals to the idea of a “student-centred” university.
“There is no evidence to support observation that [Principal’s Task Force] recommendations have been dismissed,” said Provost Anthony Masi.
Abaki said, however, that he was “not entirely” satisfied with Masi’s response.
“I think there’s been a lot of recent decisions that didn’t exactly live up to the promises made in the document [such as] the decision made on the Arch Café, the one made on the athletics board, the ones regarding the exchange fee, raising tuition for international students taking French as a second language courses,” he said.
“All these positions are made without student consultation,” Abaki added. “That’s contrary to the promises that were made in the PTFSLL, so we just wanted to make sure that there is a reaffirmation [from] the principal to that line and that argument. We wanted to make sure that while the principal emphasizes being research-intensive, that the undergraduate experience is at the top of the list.”
Management Senator Matt Reid pointed out that certain courses, especially first-year Science courses, have been closed off to students from other faculties, and asked what was being done to address overcapacity issues that have led to registration restrictions.
According to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson, students in a given program take priority in registering for those courses, adding that “courses may be capped to enhance learning experience, but the two main constraints are space and personnel.” A Student Enrolment Management program is underway and will be presented to Senate in February.