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First Senate meeting of the year

Discussion surrounds Charter of Values, budget cuts

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Just two weeks after she took the helm of McGill, Principal Suzanne Fortier chaired her first Senate meeting on September 20, commenting on contentious topics on campus such as the Charter of Values. Senate has a large say in university and academic affairs, and contains 107 voting members – including senior administration, Deans of Faculties, some professors, and 19 student representatives.

Fortier comments on Charter of Values, university rankings

Fortier opened the meeting by emphasizing that her priorities as principal align with those of the McGill community, but also underlined building good working relationships with universities and governments.

A few days ago, Fortier released a statement on the controversial Charter of Values, reaffirming that McGill is committed to promoting “cultural diversity, both in the recruitment of its students and in the hiring of staff and faculty members,” and also to promoting a “climate of tolerance on campus.”

On Monday, the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and the Faculty of Medicine, along with affiliated teaching hospitals, also denounced the Charter’s proposal to limit “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols.

Following Fortier’s speech, SSMU VP University Affairs Joey Shea asked Fortier how the University would “engage the provincial government to protect the rights of staff and students.”

“At the moment, [the government has] nothing concrete,” Fortier responded. “[McGill should] use this period as a period of consultation, that’s why it is very important for us to participate in the consultation and debate.”

Fortier added, “Already we know that there is a possibility of exclusion – that colleges and university could ask to have an exclusion [from the restrictions of the Charter of Values …] At the appropriate time we’ll take actions that are required.”

As in her interview with The Daily, Fortier also addressed McGill’s much-talked-about drop in worldwide university rankings.

“It is actually astonishing that McGill University keeps its place in the 25 best universities in the world, given the very large difference between our financial situation and the financial situation of many [other] universities,” Fortier said, adding that it “shows the commitment of people in this community.”

Budget cuts

Provost Anthony C. Masi gave a report to Senate on the state of budget cuts at McGill. The University has met 95 per cent of its cost reduction targets after the provincial government slashed $38 million from McGill’s budget last year.

“It’s not easy. McGill is a great place, and we do perform at levels far above the funding that we actually have as an institution,” Masi said. He added that after speaking to provosts of American universities at a conference in the summer, it was evident that cuts were not only a McGill problem.

To avoid collective dismissals, McGill implemented hiring freezes, salary freezes, and a Voluntary Retirement Program (VRP).  According to Masi, it was expected that 30 per cent of the 502 people who qualified for the VRP would take it – instead, 255 people, or around 50 per cent, retired. “[The] total reduction [of positions] still requires that we do things radically different,” Masi said. “The reduced number of people cannot possibly do all the tasks that used to be done.”

Fundraising and reports

Marc Weinstein, Vice-Principal of Development and Alumni Relations, presented the results of Campaign McGill, an eight-year fundraising campaign wrapped up in June 2013, that raised a record-breaking $1.026 billion for the University.

One member of Senate, Marc Richard, cautioned Weinstein for future campaigns about situations “when private donations came with strings attached that involved influence in the private structures of the University.”

Weinstein affirmed that the campaign was “very vigilant,” adding that several gifts had been declined because of this problem.

Two annual reports were also presented on potential problems at McGill: one on the investigation of research, and the other on harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination.

Abraham Fuks, the Research Integrity Officer under the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations), presented the report on the Investigation of Research Misconduct. According to the report, there were only two investigations this year – into one allegation of plagiarism, and one allegation of fabrication or falsification.

“Protecting the integrity of our research is enormously important, [as is] protecting the reputation of our research,” Fortier commented.

The Annual Report of the Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment, & Discrimination Prohibited by Law talked about the educational activities and the amount of complaints. According to the report, in the 2012-13 year, there were 35 complaints received – an increase over the 24 received in the 2011-12 year.