News | Closed Senate discusses provisional protocol

Motion to encourage statement on allegations of asbestos research misconduct tabled

In a meeting closed to the public – with the exception of campus media and select staff members – McGill Senate met Wednesday for four hours, discussing the new provisional protocol regarding demonstrations on campus and debating at length a motion to respond to allegations of asbestos research misconduct.

Access was limited due to security concerns and concerns about being able to conduct Senate business, explained Principal Heather Munroe-Blum. The meeting was live streamed to the Redpath Museum.

Munroe-Blum stated the live streaming of future meetings would be decided on a “case-by-case basis, due to demonstrations set to continue into the spring.”
In her opening comments, Munroe-Blum addressed last week’s five-day occupation of the office of Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson.

She stated that “the events of the past week serve as a further reminder, [and] I don’t think we needed any,” of the need to consider the scope and limits to freedom of speech on campus, as recommended in Dean of Law Daniel Jutras’ report on the events of November 10.

Student Senator Ian Clarke raised his concerns regarding the provisional protocol, describing it as “ambiguous and perhaps even regressive.” He pointed to the omission of the third clause of Article 5 in the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures, which states, “Nothing in this Article or Code shall be construed to prohibit peaceful assemblies and demonstrations, lawful picketing, or to inhibit free speech.”

Clarke expressed concern regarding the omission, and noted the March 22 demonstration against tuition hikes as an incentive to rectify the ambiguity for the benefit of McGill Security agents and students.

Munroe-Blum responded that, within the provisional protocol, “some points are up for discussion, some are not.”

When we speak of ambiguity, I would say, welcome to the real world,” she continued.

However, Munroe-Blum noted that “elements of the provisional protocol may well be advised.”

A message regarding allegations of research misconduct against Professor Emeritus John Corbett McDonald was delivered from Dean of Medicine and Vice-Principal (Health Affairs) David Eidelman.

Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations) Rose Goldstein then gave a summary of McGill’s five policies concerning research practices.

Eidelman said he planned to share the conclusion of the preliminary review and whether a further investigation is necessary at a future Senate.

“We’re trying to ascertain if there’s been a breach of research conduct,” he said. “The media has had what’s known of as a ‘field day.’”

Student Senator Mahmoud Almasri asked whether an external review might be established to operate parallel to the internal review to be conducted by Chair of the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational Health Rebecca Fuhrer.

Eidelman said he felt it was important to “follow a consistent policy and due process.”

Student Senator Emil Briones asked for clarification on what research policies were in place during the 1960s and 1970s, when McDonald’s research was conducted.

Goldstein responded, “We don’t have knowledge that goes that far back.” Though she added that policies had been developing “considerably” over the last 20 years.

A motion from the floor to mandate Senate to encourage the issuing of a public statement regarding asbestos research at McGill was brought forward by Senator for the Faculty of Law Richard Janda and Senator for the Faculty of Medicine Edith Zorychta.

Janda explained the motion’s intent was to respond to public scrutiny over the issue, and to how McGill’s name is being used in media reports on the alleged research misconduct.

“We are a timid body,” Janda said regarding McGill’s Senate. “We need to take our responsibility for goodness’ sake.”

Eidelman, however, expressed concern with McGill taking a stance on “social policy.”

Munroe-Blum also voiced concerns. “I think we run a very serious risk. The notion that University officials would weigh in attacks academic freedom…and the extent to which it opens [McGill] up to lobbying.”

“At the end of the day, anybody…is free to speak out on these issues,” she added.

The motion was tabled until the results of the preliminary review are presented to Senate.

Other agenda items included the presentation of the Annual Report on Student Life and Learning by Mendelson. Following the presentation, a discussion on best practices for advising and mentoring occurred.

Vice-Principal (Development and Alumni Relations) Marc Weinstein also presented, giving an update on Campaign McGill, a fundraising campaign launched in 2007. This year the campaign has raised $65.1 million, a 22 per cent increase over last year, according to his data.

Provost Anthony Masi presented McGill’s budget and finances. He explained McGill is currently in the planning phase of its next five-year budget, which spans from 2012 to 2017. Masi projected a deficit of $6 million for this financial year.


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