News  Principal hosts town hall on diversity

McGill community complains of lack of representation to principal’s taskforce

Last Friday McGill principal Heather Munroe-Blum hosted a  town hall to discuss the recommendations of the Principal’s Task Force on Diversity, Excellence, and Community Engagement, a project launched in Fall 2009 and that released its report in February.

Munroe-Blum explained the report’s three main tenets are diversity, excellence, and community engagement. At the town hall, she stressed that diversity does not reduce academic quality or standards, but that it is “quite the opposite… the report includes a very precise statement that describes how diversity and excellence are linked.”

Munroe-Blum also emphasized that the Task Force’s recommendations would not include any affirmative action measures.
“We really thought that our major goal would be to make sure that those who could be qualified for these positions had a route into our application and enrolment procedures, whether at the staff or the student side, that would make us easy to interact with,” she said.

Kevin Whittaker, president of the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA), wanted to know why there were no employee association representatives on the task force.

“One of the main topics addressed in the task force is employment equity. Under the Federal Contractor’s Programme, McGill is required to consult and collaborate with employee representatives and bargaining units in all employment equity implementation,” he said.

SSMU Equity Commissioner Emily Clare told The Daily that in the same vein, groups like the Union for Gender Empowerment, the Black Students’ Network, and Queer McGill should have been consulted.

Munroe-Blum said there was no special group representation to the task force, as it was created by an ad hoc committee wherein specially appointed members tackled diversity issues “writ large” and not “particular interests.”

When staff and students gave recommendations on how to better promote diversity, or exposed any deficits in diversity and acceptance at McGill, they were directed to the Task Force website, or told to  “think carefully about what you could be doing.”

The principal also expressed the need to improve mobility on campus.

“Our campuses need to be more physically accessible as a high priority. That’s been a challenge for us, [and is] certainly something marked for me,” she said.

A student from the Départment du langue et litérature française and the School of Environment asked about the fact that international students can no longer take FRSL at the in-province tuition rate, as she believed this change would prohibit the integration of international students into Montreal.

The principal replied that the main problem was underfunding. “We’re constantly having to make tough decisions,” she said, and suggested that the student who raised this issue should petition the provincial government for these funds.

Laura Risk, a member of the PGSS family care committee, spoke of the lack of recognition, lack of facilities such as changing tables and nursing areas, and lack of academic accommodation – for instance, leeway for students who miss exams because of a sick child – that were facing students with families.

Munroe-Blum was unwilling to make any daycare promises because of “constraints of space and money.” However, Jim Nicell, Associate Vice-Principal (University Services), immediately sent out text message to scout out possible locations for changing tables.

On the subject of equality of access and tuition rates, Munroe-Blum specified that governmental bodies could better address these issues.

Joël Pedneault, next year’s SSMU VP External, asked whether Munroe-Blum had personally consulted with any upper-level administrators at Canadian banks about tuition rates.

“I have spoken right up to the level of CEO,” she said.

After the town hall, Pedneault pointed out that this relationship presented a “conflict of interest, knowing that any increase in tuition fee means that students start to incur debt and start to have to pay interest to banks.”