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Senate discusses University budget

Votes on changes to Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures

Senators met yesterday to discuss University budgetary challenges for the 2014 financial year, as well as to approve changes to the student code of conduct that sought to make the code more accessible. 

The meeting started with an address by incoming principal Suzanne Fortier. Fortier, who will take office in September 2013, praised the reputation of the university and emphasized her excitement about working at McGill.

The bulk of the session was taken up by the presentation of the Achieving Strategic Academic Priorities (ASAP) 2012 implementation progress update and the McGill University Budget for 2013-2014. The former had been postponed from a previous meeting on March 20.

Principal Heather Munroe-Blum announced that based on indexation calculation for 2011, the government estimated that the tuition hike for the next academic year would amount to 2.6 per cent for the 2014 year – instead of the 3 per cent previously cited by the government.

Provost Anthony Masi presented the projected budget for the upcoming academic year and focused on the financial challenges faced by the University. The biggest challenge that Masi referred to was the government-imposed budget cuts of $124 million for universities across Quebec.

Masi explained that McGill will end the current financial year with a $30-million deficit, since the University put the $19 million government cuts and the $6 million it did not receive – but had included in previous budget calculations – from rescinded tuition hikes, into its overall accumulated deficit.

In defense of the drastic cuts the University has been making to match government cuts, Masi told Senate that the University had predicted an “unsustainable” accumulated operating budget deficit of $43 million for FY 2014

The cuts will be implemented through hiring freezes and suspending job re-classifications; one-year wage freezes for labour units who accept it, with likely cuts in headcounts for those that don’t;  and voluntary retirements via incentive packages. The University also mentioned that there could be additional staff reductions depending on how many voluntary retirements come through.

Masi also referred to the controversy regarding the closure of the Education and Life Sciences libraries as provoked by budgetary cuts, and asked Senate to examine what the physical space of libraries should look like in the future.

Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures

Senate also voted to approve revisions to the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures proposed by Dean of Students André Costopoulos and Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures and Equity) Lydia White.

According to White, the revision was initiated to make the Code more “user-friendly” for students and staff, stating that “the current Code is very hard to follow.”

The review process started in 2010 under former Dean of Students Jane Everett, who formed a working group on the issue. In 2012, at the Principal’s request, White started chairing another working group to examine how the Manfredi report would affect the Code.

Among the changes made was the replacement in item 5 of the word ‘disruption’ by ‘obstruction.’ The rationale behind this, the official Senate document reads, is to introduce clarity since “it is easier to define obstruction than disruption, especially given the fact that the Manfredi report recommends a certain amount of tolerance for disruption.

The revision also states that disruption is no longer considered an academic offence

At the March 20 meeting, when the revisions were first presented, Senator Catherine Lu spoke against the proposed elimination of point 5c, which stated that nothing in the Article or Code shall “be construed to prohibit peaceful assemblies and demonstrations, lawful picketing, or to inhibit free speech. 

In response, White pointed to a newly-added article 4c, which states that no article in the Code “shall limit the rights guaranteed under the Charter of Students Rights.

The revised article 5 now reads “no student shall, by action, threat, or otherwise, knowingly obstruct University activities. University activities include but are not limited to, teaching, research, studying, administration, public service, scheduled events and activities.

Student Senator Max Zidel raised concerns over what he considered a “hierarchy” created by the article.

“Is the problem obstruction or unpeaceful obstruction…. [this] suggests that teaching, research, and studying are more university activities than dissent,” Zidel said.

In its revision to disciplinary hearings procedure, the working group also added a provision, 48c, which “allows a student access to relevant documentation in advance of any meeting”, which is currently not the case. Such a provision ensures that students and advisors have access to the same evidence as disciplinary officers prior to scheduled interviews.

In terms of academic offences, the revision changed and clarify the definition of plagiarism in the code, as it was previously inconsistent with the one found in the Regulations Concerning Investigation to Research Misconduct – a document outlining the University’s general framework for conducting research.