Senate criticized as “rubber-stamping body”

Discussion revolves around ways to make Senate more useful

The second Senate meeting of the year kicked off on October 16 with congratulations from Principal Suzanne Fortier to Dr. Luda Diatchenko, who on September 25 was made a chair under the Canada Excellence Research Chair Program. Diatchenko is not only the first woman to be appointed a chair, but also the first at McGill.

Senators split on whether debate is productive

Senate held an open discussion entitled “Making Senate meetings more meaningful: Enhancing discussion and engagement.” There was general agreement by most of the senators that a large chunk of time in the monthly meetings was taken up by lengthy presentations. Others suggested that there was not enough meaningful debate, and that the little debate there was did not contribute adequately to the decision-making processes of the University.

Religious Studies Senator and former SSMU VP University Affairs Haley Dinel, who has sat on Senate for several years, agreed about the lack of engagement. “My main concern has been the lack of engagement from senators,” she said. “Students are usually the most vocal on Senate – there is very little incentive for professors and non-academic staff to contribute.”

However, not all the senators agreed that there should be more debate. “[I] appreciate the fact that debate is fun and it stimulates engagement and thought [… but] it’s hard to imagine that complicated issues are going to be amenable to debate where you’ll change your opinion based on few minutes of discussion,” said Professor Gregory Dudek from the Faculty of Science.

Professor Catherine Lu from the Faculty of Arts also criticized Senate’s inability to contribute to any kind of meaningful decision-making by the administration. “[My colleagues told me] ‘Senate is more like a rubber-stamping body,’” Lu said. “But this joke wasn’t too far off my experience.”

Fortier wrapped up the discussion by announcing that a small working group would be formed to look into suggestions for making Senate more open.

Quebec’s complicated funding structure

Professor Terry Hébert, one of the Faculty of Medicine senators, posed a question about the cost of educating the average in-province McGill undergraduate student, as well as the gap between the money needed to educate a student and provincial grants and tuition money.

Provost Anthony Masi responded by pointing to the Quebec government’s complex funding structure. “Quebec doesn’t provide a block grant, and doesn’t provide funding by the program of study in which a student is actually enrolled,” Masi said. “The Quebec government provides funding for each [course] that a student takes,” with some courses given more money than others.

However, Masi acknowledged that, according to numbers crudely calculated by University administrators, the average in-province undergraduate student only paid for 21.7 per cent of the total cost required to educate them – leaving both the provincial government and McGill to foot the rest of the bill.

“In the long run, costs can’t continue to exceed revenues. […] Revenues have been increasing continuously over the past decade, but [McGill] has had to spend more than we brought in to subsidize students,” he said, adding that in addition to pressuring for more governmental funding, increases in tuition needed to be considered.

Reports on mental health, diversity, and research funding

Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens and Executive Director of Student Services Jana Luker presented the annual report of the Committee on Student Services. Dyens highlighted the importance of mental health at McGill, connecting it to broader structures.

“Some of the mental health issues we’re facing are a pressure from society,” he said, later adding, “We have to deal with the day-to day-grind of servicing students, but we also have to look much further ahead [at] how the world is changing.”

The Annual Report of the Joint Board-Senate Committee on Equity, presented by Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures and Equity) Lydia White, acknowledged the problem of microaggressions on campus. In addition, the Committee tentatively proposed that a statement of inclusiveness and diversity be included in McGill’s mission statement at some point in the future.

Research funding was also a topic presented for Senate’s knowledge. Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations) Rose Goldstein emphasized that McGill had to continue diversifying its funding sources. She highlighted that currently, over half of McGill’s total research funding – $484 million in 2011-12 – came from the federal government. However, she also underlined an increase in funding from non-profit, industry, and international sources.