News | Senate discusses asbestos research and interdisciplinary registration

Principal’s Task Force and five-year strategic academic plan also covered

McGill Senate met last Wednesday for the second time this year. Discussion lingered on the accessibility of interfaculty and interdepartmental course registration, but topics also included university funding, asbestos research at McGill, the Principal’s Task Force on Diversity, Excellence and Community Engagement, and the Open Forum on Free Expression and Peaceful Assembly report.

In her opening statement, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum underlined her concern about government investment in education and the quality of education and student support at the University, stating that she “[didn’t] want to start sounding like a broken record, but we need these resources in a consistent and predictable manner.”

She noted that the new provincial government had been “quite quiet” in interactions with the University, and that a summit would most likely be scheduled for the following spring.

Asbestos research

Dean of Medicine David Eidelman spoke briefly about the report prepared by the University’s Research Integrity Officer Abraham Fuks to address allegations of academic misconduct against McGill Professor Emeritus J. Corbett Macdonald, who researched the health effects of asbestos in the 1970s.

Eidelman stated that in releasing the report to the public, he hoped to dispel beliefs that McGill “was in some kind of conspiracy with the asbestos industry.”

Several senators asked why the report did not address larger issues concerning McGill’s relationship to the asbestos industry – namely, the fact that a prominent asbestos exporter sat on the University’s Board of Governors until last year – as well as its research financing practices in general.

Interdisciplinary registration

SSMU VP University Affairs Haley Dinel and Arts Senator Max Zidel said that the lack of a university-wide guide on interdepartmental course registration had resulted in the presence of vastly different registration policies, which can make registration difficult and frustrating.

In response, Provost Anthony Masi reiterated that while a strong depth and breadth of learning was a part of the McGill experience, the priority of registering major and minor students in their departmental courses naturally preceded “latitude enrichment.” He also stated that as a large university, practical concerns would have to factor in policy decisions, though steps were being taken to improve interdepartmental relations.

Masi additionally informed Senate that the University was working with Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson to eliminate low-enrollment courses and programs in order to allocate more time for the teaching of courses that were more in demand. Masi acknowledged that reducing certain courses would not appeal to the entire student body, and once again would involve a trade-off between specificity and breadth.

During the meeting, the student senators asked whether students’ needs were fully taken into account by faculty policymakers. While the Faculty of Arts has reduced its major credit requirements from 56 to 36 in light of student demand, Senator   and Post-Graduate Students’ Society Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney remarked that other majors, especially in the Faculty of Science, still required 76 credits out of a 90-credit program.

Senator and Dean of Science Martin Grant pointed out that the specific nature of science programs and the necessity of prerequisite courses were the reasons for a high-credit major, especially in honours programs. He also stated that pursuing a Bachelor of Arts and Science was an option for students who wanted a more inter-faculty degree.

According to Masi, the expansion and improvement of interdepartmental course registration is central to McGill’s commitment to maintaining its global reputation as a world leader in education. The Academic Policy Committee will be working with the deans of each faculty to discuss the issue, although no concrete policies have been put in place.

The Task Force

In response to the recommendations made by the Principal’s Task Force on Diversity, Excellence and Community Engagement, the administration decided to expand the mandate of the Associate Provost for Policies, Procedures, and Equity to include the promotion and monitoring of diversity at the University. The administration’s official response suggested implementing measures aimed at increasing “the number of individuals from groups now underrepresented in various segments of the McGill community, in particular, visible minorities, Aboriginal groups, women, persons with disabilities, and disadvantaged socioeconomic groups.”

ASAP 2012: Achieving Strategic Academic Priorities

Senate endorsed the academic strategies and objectives outlined in the Provost’s five-year strategic academic plan. Like the Task Force, ASAP emphasized the importance of diversifying the University’s staff and faculty. The 81-page document outlined ten central objectives, including: that McGill revise its academic hiring policy, especially concerning tenure-track professors; provide adequate student aid to improve the accessibility of education to “underrepresented population groups”; “ensure innovation in graduate studies”; “develop a culture of ‘best practices’” in its administrative policies; improve opportunities for advancement with its support staff; implement better feedback loops; provide a service to “Quebec, Canada, and the global community”; and “encourage diversity in…ideas among faculty, students, and staff.”

Mooney remarked that the goals outlined in the report were “so broad that they became aphorisms.”

with files from Lola Duffort

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