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Research goals and transparency on Senate agenda

Administration’s definition of success remains unclear

On Wednesday, Rose Goldstein, Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations), presented to Senate an updated version of the University’s Strategic Research Plan, a document that highlights McGill’s “core commitments.”

Goldstein reviewed the University’s success in research as well as its challenges in funding. Although McGill has moved up from fourth to second place in “research intensity” among U15 universities for the total tri-council funding, less research-intensive universities have been increasing at a quicker rate than McGill, “working hard and capturing more than their market share,” according to Goldstein.

Goldstein described McGill as being in the “middle of the pack” in terms of its current growth in research funding.  While presenting a pie chart of the University’s current sources for research funding, she explained that McGill relies heavily on “traditional sources” of funding – provincial and federal government funds. Goldstein’s report thus stressed the importance of diversifying funding by soliciting funds from individuals, foundations, and philanthropists, among others.

A Post Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) document, submitted to the committee on October 9, outlined the graduate society’s comments on the Strategic Research Plan and expressed concerns over the Plan’s definition of success and excellence: “How will McGill measure and monitor how research is fulfilling these goals? Citations?  Publication in high-impact journals?  The feedback of other faculty members?  The social impact as expressed through media coverage, partnerships, etcetera?  The strategic research plan should articulate these metrics.”

Goldstein added that researchers have a responsibility in the Strategic Research Plan to “know our funders and what they want to fund” and to “seek out the strongest projects with the greatest possibility of success.”

Goldstein added that researchers have a responsibility in the Strategic Research Plan to “know our funders and what they want to fund” and to “seek out the strongest projects with the greatest possibility of success.”

The Strategic Research Plan includes seven “areas of research excellence” that the University should strategically support: Examine fundamental questions about humanity, identity, and expression; strengthen public policy and create a deeper understanding of social transformation; capitalize on the convergence of life sciences, natural sciences, and engineering; support health research and improved delivery of care; unlock the potential of the human brain and the entire nervous system; advance knowledge of the foundations and applications of technology in the Digital Age; and explore the power of the Earth, space, and the universe.

Multiple Senators expressed concerns about the limitations posed by the list, claiming that their departments were not consulted in the Plan’s development and were not reflected in the listed areas.

In response, Goldstein said that these areas were simply “examples,” and that the list was not exhaustive.

PGSS Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney had similar concerns. “There are some overall problems with the value of ‘categorizing’ research in this manner,” wrote Mooney in an email to The Daily. “We could easily come up with seven completely different categories showing different overlaps, so it is important to emphasize the limits of such an approach and note that categories are fluid.”

Later in the meeting, Professor Chandra Madramootoo presented a report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Recording and Transmission of Senate Meetings.

The practices of other universities in Canada and the United States, as well as the practices of the Supreme Court and National Assembly, the committee recommended that Senate grant permission for the live video recording and transmission of Senate meetings on a pilot basis from January to December 2013. The committee said that this recommendation was based on the need for Senate to “show some leadership in history with respect to openness and transparency with respect to decisions made by the University that have implications in academic life in the University,” as well as to bring about “engagement from the broad university community from staff, academic support staff, students, and alumni.”

However, the motion to adopt this recommendation quickly became contentious after an amendment was introduced to include archiving the recordings, rather than only allowing the live streaming of meetings.

SSMU President Josh Redel was among those pushing the amendment, which was officially introduced by Dean of Religious Studies Ellen Aitken.

Redel said that not archiving the recordings for later use would be a “step backwards” in terms of maximizing engagement and gave the example of people who work full-time and are unable to watch Senate meetings live.

Referring to the committee’s fourth recommendation, which cites Senate’s need to show leadership and maximize engagement, Redel said, “Leadership isn’t doing what other universities do. It’s going above and beyond what they do, not trying to catch up.”

In response, the committee cited its concerns that archived recordings could be leaked, reproduced, or recreated outside of McGill, and claimed that the current recommendation aimed to protect copywritten material.

Other Senate members expressed concerns over the possibility of legal action being taken over recorded statements.

After debate on the motion and its amendment, the amendment was withdrawn and the motion tabled to allow the committee to consult further with concerned Senate members.

The final portion of the meeting was dedicated to Interim Dean of Students Linda Starkey’s Annual Report of the Committee on Student Discipline, during which a group of students stood in the back with a sign that read “McGill’s Committee on Squashing Dissent” and periodically disrupted the proceedings with cheers, snaps, and boos.