In last Wednesday’s Senate meeting, Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures and Equity) Lydia White presented a draft of revisions to the University’s Regulations Relating to the Employment of Academic Staff. White described the current regulations as an “organizational nightmare.” The regulations would mostly apply to tenure track professors.
According to White, most of the proposed changes are organizational. However, a proposed change to Section 5.10 of the original regulations was the focus of Senate’s discussion on White’s revision.
Section 5.10 stated that for academic staff to be granted tenure, “superior performance” in two of three categories is necessary. A “reasonable performance” in the third category is a minimum requirement.
The categories break down into teaching, research (professional and scholarly activities), and “other contributions to the University and scholarly communities.” White referred to the third category as “service.”
To be granted tenure under the revised set of regulations would mean earning a “superior performance” in the categories of teaching and research, and in the category of “service” professors could receive, at minimum, a “reasonable performance.”
After the meeting, White spoke to The Daily about the message behind the revision of the section.
“It’s more the message we are conveying about our expectations,” she explained.“McGill is a research-intensive, teaching-oriented University, and perhaps it’s not sending the right message to say that we would accept less than superior in those two important categories.”
Senators raised concerns regarding the section’s revision. In Senate, Medicine senator Edith Zorychta said the revision “devalues the collegial [service].”
Zorychta, a Pharmacology professor involved with the McGill Association of University Teachers (MAUT), said that a group within MAUT had examined the revision and, according to her, had “very serious concerns.” According to the Senate report, White had previously consulted with MAUT, Deans, and Teaching and Learning Services.
“It’s a major change and it has ramifications throughout the academic community,” said Zorychta. “It could send the message that since it’s no longer one of the three equally valid factors, it can easily be interpreted, and I think would be interpreted by many people, to mean that [service] is of lesser importance.”
Music senator Kyoko Hashimoto explained that, for Music, the category of research means performance, but she noted that many musicians later in their careers are unable to perform due to injuries. She gave the example of tendonitis among pianists.
“I’m afraid that if we change in this direction, that means it might be difficult to get the superior [level],” she said. She added that it could potentially amount to ageism in that context.
Several senators agreed with Arts senator John Galaty’s question: “Are we trying to fix something that’s not broken?”
White responded in Senate to his question, saying, “This is a consideration.”
She said that the number of current academic staff who have “reasonable performance” were “almost certainly lower than 10 per cent of the tenure cohort in each year,” and added that most tenured professors are superior in all three categories.
Speaking to The Daily after Senate, White said that the revision does not mean professors applying for tenure would not be expected to do service.
“I think it’s unfortunate that what people are interpreting this proposal as meaning that service is going to denigrate – that’s not the intention,” she said.
“It’s rather to enhance that we consider ourselves a top University in research and in teaching, and so why, in that case, shouldn’t we make that the expectation for junior professors?” she continued.
Post Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) VP Academic Lily Han described the revision as “contradictory,” referring to a discussion earlier in the meeting regarding recognizing student extracurricular activities in the admissions process.
“I think that if we want to promote students to get involved, and promote volunteerism, promote service to the University, it should be the same with faculty,” she said.
The revisions are to be brought back to Senate in April for the body’s approval. White stated she would incorporate the comments made in Senate into the revision process.
However, Arts senator Brendan Gillon expressed “misgivings” in Senate that, due to the time of the academic year, adequate reflection on the revision could occur before the next Senate. “I’d like to hear more arguments and more discussion,” he said after the meeting adjourned.