Commentary | Say goodbye to your departments


Last week, the McGill administration announced their proposed plans, the “People, Processes & Partnerships” project, to drastically rearrange the space in the Leacock building. The third and sixth floors would be turned into student advising and administrative services, respectively, and Arts professors’ offices would be scattered between floors. Support staff would all be put on the sixth floor, and their ties to departments would be severed – they would become support staff for the whole faculty as opposed to their original departments. Additional staff, such as TAs or visiting scholars, would be moved to what is now the Jewish Studies building on McTavish, physically separating them from their departments. This proposed plan essentially destroys departmental communities within the Arts faculty.

The plan is framed through the rhetoric of efficiency – that these moves will make it easier for students to navigate departmental administrations. While a noble goal, these changes should not come at the expense of departmental communities. Community is supposedly valued at McGill – you may remember the world record fruit salad that was desperately cited as building a more cohesive community. Yet this plan threatens departmental spaces, which foster important communities based on academic culture. Students in smaller faculties will have even more difficulty obtaining the help they need once support staff are no longer a part of a distinct, departmental entity and their professors are spread throughout Leacock.

Already, professors have come out against the plan. History professor James Krapfl wrote an impassioned email to students denouncing the plan, and there are multiple petitions circulating that protest the proposal.

The move is also troubling in terms of labour. As administrative positions are centralized, administrators would have less specialized  knowledge of individual departments, and workers could be laid off to save money. The admin claims the plans will compensate for the potential loss of administrative staff – but the plan, by consolidating services, makes current support staff vulnerable to losing their jobs.

Another worrisome aspect of the plan is the funding. The budget for this reshuffling would be up to $2.5 million and would come from private grants. McGill construction projects, however, have a nasty habit of going over schedule and over budget – just look at Phase II of the McLennan terrace renovations, which had been scheduled to finish in October 2012, but continued well into the Winter 2013 semester. Amid the oft-cited Parti Québécois budget cuts, it is financially unwise to spend this much money on a project that is not totally necessary.

Perhaps most troubling is the neoliberal, managerial aspect of the plan. With the ballooning numbers (and salaries) of the senior admin, moves to reduce faculty and staff that actually deal with students directly make no sense. Here, academic support staff have been turned into general employees who work for all departments instead of just one. It fits within a trend of creating more administrative positions that are removed from the students. Consider how arduous it is to get help from McGill’s bureaucracy; now, imagine that your department doesn’t have any more specialized workers to help you. Instead, every support staff member will be handling requests from every department.

There is precedent for this scenario. For example, at the University of Manchester, where a similar centralization of administrative services has taken place, professors have had to take over general administrative tasks that unspecialized support staff could no longer address. Contrary to the McGill administration’s assertions, efficiency may not even be increased.

This is yet another example of the administration failing to integrate the opinions of anyone else on campus into their plans. Consultation on this issue has been an empty gesture, used only to rubber stamp a decision that has already been made by the administration. After the Arts cuts were announced, Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi claimed that more full-time lecturers were what students wanted. Sure, students want full-time professors, but not at the expense of intimate seminar classes. The restructuring of Leacock is similar: yes, the students want a more efficient system, but not at the expense of one of the few true sources of community that McGill has left.

To sign a petition against the proposed plan, go to:

    —The McGill Daily Editorial Board