On two occasions The Daily has published commentaries in support of a group called Support Our Staff at McGill (“Save our support staff,” Commentary, November 25, page 17 and “Get informed, take action!,” Commentary, January 13, page 8). The group is critical of the Faculty of Arts’ People, Processes, & Partnerships (PPP) project to reorganize administrative and support services at the departmental level. Critical engagement and disagreement are fundamental characteristics of universities, but so too is an obligation not to distort the facts.
So what are the facts? The PPP project, launched in November 2012, is one of the most extensive projects ever undertaken by the Faculty. Almost 120 people in 12 different groups have met 177 times to consider every aspect of administrative and support service delivery to departments. From the beginning, students have been consulted and proactively approached to be members of various working groups. The Faculty has solicited such participation in one form or another on 15 different occasions. We explicitly asked departments to secure participation from their graduate student associations. Graduate students have been less involved than undergraduate students, but the working group on graduate student affairs nevertheless includes five graduate students.
SOS McGill raises the spectre of “forced relocation” of administrative and support staff. The phrase is provocative, but misleading. To be sure, there was a proposal – long abandoned – that would have entailed significant displacement of administrative and support staff, as well as faculty. The Faculty abandoned that proposal because of feedback from stakeholders who pointed out its operational weaknesses. Current proposals would see the majority of administrative and support staff remain where they are presently located.
The PPP project will not reduce the number of staff providing administrative and support services to departments. The loss of 7 staff in the 13 affected departments has already taken place because of the Voluntary Retirement Program (VRP) implemented by the University to cope with provincially imposed budget cuts. This means that 41 people are now available to do work once done by 48. The impact of the VRP was uneven: some departments experienced no staff reductions at all, while three departments saw the retirement of their senior administrative support staff person. These positions cannot be replaced because the budgets to support them no longer exist.
This is a fact with or without the PPP, but the project gives the Faculty a tool for smoothing out the effects of those staff reductions.
The PPP project is about more than staff reorganization. It is also about what we do and how we do it. Subgroups are looking at streamlining processes and reducing the amount of work that must be done. The project has examined better ways of integrating Faculty and department level advising. It has explored better ways of using information technology. It is concerned with enhanced training and career development opportunities for administrative and support staff.
One way or another, departments will have to develop partnerships and share resources to provide students and faculty an appropriate level of service. This means that administrative and support staff will have to provide service across departmental boundaries. There will be a challenging learning curve, but the staff in the Faculty of Arts has the talent and capacity to meet that challenge.
I am surprised that anyone thinks differently.
Dean of Arts