News  Report reveals student displeasure

McGill Law student’s survey data sheds light on equity and diversity issues

According to a report entitled “An Evaluation of Undergraduate Education Quality at McGill University, 2009-10” the majority of McGill undergraduates are concerned with how effectively McGill prepares them for future employment, adequate advising, and academic gains. The report, authored by second-year Law student Michael Shortt, was presented to SSMU Council on November 25, 2010.

Shortt has produced an annual report at the behest of each SSMU VP University Affairs for the past four years. This year’s report contains the results of the 2010 Vulcan Student Survey, completed by 1,193 students – about five per cent of the undergraduate class.

One of the report’s main focuses is workforce preparedness. Of the students surveyed, only six per cent of U1 students and nine per cent of U3 students considered themselves very well prepared to enter the workforce, while twenty per cent of U1 students and 33 per cent of U3 students felt well prepared.

In an email to The Daily, Shortt said, “This pattern of poor performance on McGill’s part is particularly troubling, given that most undergraduates place a high importance on employability and workforce-related skills.”

Another point of concern highlighted by the report was academic advising. Only 15 per cent of first-year students and eight per cent of students in their graduating year agreed that they were satisfied with the program advising they had received. According to the report, many students stated that the program advising they received was often “revealed to be unhelpful over time and in many cases prevented them from reaching their academic and personal goals.”

Findings on academic gains, and students’ abilities to retain information were equally concerning. Only five per cent of students ranked their “ability to recall facts or background material related to [their] discipline” as “very good.” Further, seven per cent of students strongly agreed that “I receive extensive feedback on my assignments and exams.”

The library received high marks, with 68 per cent of students agreeing that, “The library is comfortable and inviting” and 59 per cent agreeing that, “There are enough quiet study spaces for individuals in the library.”

Shortt said, “The library has always been very supportive of the survey and always takes a keen interest in its results.”

Within the Equity and Diversity section of the report, Shortt also reported that, although only nine per cent of white students felt, “or have been made to feel, uncomfortable on campus due to [their] race or ethnicity” – compared to 36 per cent of non-white students – it is important to focus on their feeling included on campus. He wrote that some white students “felt excluded from groups which focused on a specific ethnic group or gender.”

Emily Clare, SSMU Equity Commissioner, was “not surprised” with the report’s findings. She noted the importance of keeping up with the trends mentioned, as “equity is constantly changing and evolving.”

When gender or nationality-specific groups meet, explained Clare, “It’s not to exclude people. It’s about community within a specific subset of individuals. These tensions are a part of our human existence. McGill is a really great place to learn about inter-group dynamics – it’s a microcosm of the larger world,” said Clare.

Shortt clarified that his role in this process was not to lobby for policy changes.

“As a researcher, my role was to gather and report data. Which means, of course, that the report is all problems and no solutions,” he said.

Josh Abaki, SSMU VP University Affairs, said that “the data that we gathered from the survey will form the basis for discussion on different Senate committees and Faculty councils…and some points will be raised up at Senate.”

Shortt also stated that Morton Mendelson, Deputy Provost Student Life and Learning, had received and commented upon the report, “He seemed to be genuinely interested in what students had to say, and in identifying how their experiences of McGill’s strengths and weaknesses mapped onto the strengths we aspire to.”

“Of course it’s early,” said Shortt, “so it’s impossible to say whether that commitment will be continued. I’m optimistic though.”