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Non-transparent allocation of disability grant angers students

Advising, Glen relocation issues discussed at Senate

Senate convened on March 18 for its monthly meeting, where student senators brought forward questions about the unclear allocation of funding for students with disabilities and the interfaculty disparity in the availability of student advisors.

Funding for students with disabilities

Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Arts and Science Senator Chloe Rourke, Arts Senator Jacob Greenspon, and Medicine Senator David Benrimoh presented a question regarding the allocation of McGill’s $1.2 million share of a provincial grant for the support of students with disabilities.

According to the official response to this question, provided by Provost Anthony Masi and Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens, this money has been absorbed under the annual budget, with the administration claiming that a sufficient amount is already spent on services benefitting students with disabilities.

“The unrestricted envelop [sic] of approximately $1.2 [million] provided this year is part of the overall university budget from which much more than $1.2 [million] has been allocated for services to students with disabilities and other needs across the university. In essence, then, the funds have already been distributed,” the response read.

However, the response also noted that the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) would be facing “budget restrictions” in the coming year, along with other units on campus, and that there was “no pending disbursement to OSD.”

“[We] can guarantee only what we can afford to guarantee.”

Rourke said that the student senators asked the question because students had expressed concern that the OSD was inadequately funded. “We realized that the current budget is not able to sustain operations even without funding cuts,” said Rourke. “How is the University going to ensure that this service is able to fulfill its mandate and operations?”

In response to Rourke, Masi said that the OSD is an “important service,” but emphasized that the current climate of decreased government funding requires budget cuts. “We have to make difficult choices sometimes […] and [the funds] can’t just be given because it’s an important service.”

However, Benrimoh insisted that more information be provided about how the funds would be disbursed to ensure that they were actually being used to directly help students with disabilities.

“How can you guarantee us clarity of purpose for these funds?” he asked Masi.

Masi responded that the University can guarantee “only what we can afford to guarantee.”

“We cannot put any more money into this operation than what we are already doing,” Masi continued, adding that these circumstances would not lead to the dissolution of the service.

Speaking to the OSD’s apparent operating difficulties, Dyens said, “I was not made aware of this. This is a discussion that [Executive] Director of Student Services [Jana Luker] and I must have. […] We are committed to making sure we provide these services.”

Advising disparity between faculties

Greenspon presented a question about the disparity in advisor-to-student ratios between faculties and about the University’s actions to address this. The question noted that the ratio was 843 students per advisor in Arts, compared to an inter-faculty average of 265 students per advisor. Law, the faculty with the lowest ratio, has only 88 students per advisor.

Dyens said that the University has been making concerted efforts to obtain donations to fund for advising. “This is a resource issue. […] I think we’ll be making progress very soon on this.”

Dyens also noted that the “Ask McGill” website, which serves to respond to simple questions to free up advisors for larger discussions, saw a usage increase of almost 20 per cent in February. “[Survey] data says students are seeing progress, but we’re still behind our peers,” he said.

Grad student relocation concerns

Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Martin Kreiswirth presented his annual report to Senate.

Many questions raised in response to the report pertained to the recent move of many research students to the new Glen site of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). Medicine Faculty Senator Edith Zorychta asked what was being done to address space concerns, given that roughly 9 per cent of the graduate student population has moved to this new location.

Kreiswirth did not provide a specific solution, but acknowledged the problem that some units have research and funding but lack space. He suggested better liaising with the Glen site, but said that there were “no simple solutions.”

PGSS Academic Affairs Officer Jennifer Murray expressed concern with the impact of the move on students’ workflow and quality of life. “We have received many complaints,” she said.

Murray requested that Kreiswirth form a working group to investigate issues with the move and report to Senate in May and September. Kreiswirth said he would get back to Murray with a decision.

New programs, Principal’s remarks

Principal Suzanne Fortier said that McGill’s proposal for the use of the Royal Victoria Hospital, which will become vacant next month, has been made a priority by the government. The University will conduct a feasibility study, half of which will be funded by the government, on the use of the space.

“[We] need to have a clear picture of what problems we would face if we developed the site, and what costs we would incur,” said Fortier, adding that McGill would require significant investment from the government before committing to developing the site.

Two graduate certificate programs, one in digital archives management and the other in information and knowledge management, were approved by Senate, along with two new concentrations for Masters programs in the Faculty of Arts.