In what Principal Suzanne Fortier called “a full experience of our Senate,” the December 3 Senate meeting saw some confusion over rules of procedure in the discussion of a proposed policy on late course withdrawals in exceptional circumstances. Provost Anthony Masi also gave a presentation on budget planning for 2016-17.
Policy on late withdrawals
Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures & Equity) Lydia White moved to approve a policy on late course withdrawals as part of the report of the Academic Policy Committee (APC). With the goal of setting “accurate, fair and compassionate guidelines to address difficult situations,” the proposed policy would allow removal of the courses and grades for an entire term from the official transcript if the student withdrew from all classes under exceptional circumstances.
A lengthy discussion ensued, in which numerous student senators emphasized the necessity to similarly allow for removal of individual courses from the official transcript, as a student under duress may wish to concentrate on one or two classes instead of withdrawing the entire term.
“To have [the motion] withdrawn showed an unwillingness to have open and honest debate in Senate.”
White indicated that the APC had decided against extending the policy to individual courses, as “it would be very difficult to determine on what basis one should be allowed to withdraw from some courses and not others.”
Students raised concerns that this ‘all-or-nothing’ approach would create a difficult situation for students wishing to partially withdraw from a term. “I fear that this [policy] might be harmful, because we’re telling students, ‘You can lose all the work you’ve done, or accept the Ws,’” said Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Medicine Senator David Benrimoh.
Arts Faculty Senator Catherine Lu argued that “manual curing” of the transcript could jeopardize its credibility, and that grades of W don’t necessarily penalize the student in admissions. “[The presence of Ws] indicates that the student had a legitimate reason to withdraw, and that actually makes us discount the [other] lower grades that the student received in that term,” said Lu.
Dean of Students Andre Costopoulos countered that Ws are in fact harmful for admissions, especially in medicine and law. While a W is not defined by McGill as a punitive notation, “in effect, we have seen over the years that it has become punitive,” he said.
SSMU Law Senator Dan Snyder shared his experience of facing invasive questions from employers after taking a term off for health reasons and receiving Ws. “Putting people on the spot for future employment again and again, that’s something we need to avoid,” he said.
Seeing no consensus, White indicated that she had “no objection to withdrawing the motion.” With consent from Engineering Faculty Senator David Covo, who had seconded the motion, it was withdrawn.
Benrimoh, who had attempted to put forth an amendment moments before the motion was withdrawn, then moved to suspend the rules and reconsider the motion in order to amend the policy to include a mandatory review clause. The vote, which required a three-fourths majority, failed, but the reconsideration motion will be voted on again at the next Senate meeting on January 21.
“I was shocked, frankly, that the motion was withdrawn,” Benrimoh told The Daily in an interview. “[The motion] doesn’t quite go far enough, and it does present certain difficulties, but not enough that it’s worth completely shooting down.”
“We were really disappointed,” added Benrimoh. “To have [the motion] withdrawn showed an unwillingness to have open and honest debate in Senate.”
Budget planning, new provost
In giving the budget planning presentation, the first of three this year, Masi emphasized the continued uncertainty of government funding, with about $20 million in provincial cuts having been announced mid-year. An additional $5 to $6 million in cuts are expected for 2016-17 based on preliminary indications, Masi said.
Noting that “austerity measures will not lead to successful future for McGill and its community” in the presentation, Masi indicated that community consultation will be required to perform “strategic cuts” weighted more heavily toward certain units.
In her opening remarks, Fortier indicated that the Board of Governors had approved the appointment of a new provost at its December 2 meeting. Current Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi will replace Masi in the role effective July 1.