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Senators concerned about Student Services funding

Senate updated on research regulation review, expected $4 million budget surplus

McGill’s Senate convened on April 22 for its penultimate meeting of the year, approving revisions to McGill’s mission statement and the creation of a faculty council in the Faculty of Medicine. Senate also discussed McGill’s budget orientations – in particular, the funding of Student Services – and received an update on the ongoing review of McGill’s research conduct regulation.

Budget surplus, Student Services funding

Provost Anthony Masi informed Senate that, despite an initial forecast of a $7 million deficit, the projected balance of the 2014-15 budget is a $4.3 million surplus. For the second year in a row, the government has provided unforeseen funds to the university following a revision of student enrolment numbers, resulting in a budget surplus despite severe cuts to the operating grant.

“Two years doesn’t make a trend – yet,” said Masi, also noting that additional expenditures during the month of April could reduce the surplus.

The 2015-16 budget, expected to be approved by the Board of Governors on April 28, forecasts an additional $11 million reduction in the operating budget, to be mitigated by the continuation of cost-cutting practices introduced in the past two years, such as the hiring freeze on administrative and support staff. International students in faculties with deregulated international tuition – Engineering, Law, Management, and Science – will also face a 5 per cent tuition increase.

The budget also includes a $4.75 million revenue increase from additional overhead charges imposed to the university’s “self-funding” units, including Student Services, which is mostly funded by student fees. According to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens, the changes will require Student Services to allocate $1.5 million of its accumulated $6 million surplus to new overhead charges.

“There’s no way we can commit to [maintaining current levels of service].”

Student Services also receives a yearly grant from the provincial government. Responding to a question from Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan, SSMU President Courtney Ayukawa, SSMU Arts and Science Senator and incoming VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke, and SSMU Arts Senator Jacob Greenspon, Dyens left open the possibility that this grant could begin to be partially distributed to other units instead, noting that 25 per cent of the $1.8 million grant is already being allocated to Athletics.

“The government grant we receive is meant to fund services to students, [which] include McGill Student Services, but also things such as the Dean of Students, Service Point, advising, the libraries, et cetera,” said Dyens. “If we face unsustainable cuts over the next few years, we may have to use part of that grant to ensure the viability of services to students. We would be able to do so only because Student Services has an accumulated budget surplus of more than $6 million – this is not a long-term solution.”

Student senators voiced concern about the long-term sustainability of the funding of Student Services, a unit already unable to meet student demand and reduce wait times.

“Student Services was previously planning to be using some of that surplus to be doing things like hiring new therapists, but now they are not able to […] meet the increase in demand because of these new overheads,” said Stewart-Kanigan.

Dyens noted that $3.5 million of the surplus was still available, but warned against creating “unreasonable expectations.”

“We could use the entire $6 million to […] bring wait time to zero this year; however, it would mean [that] next year, we’d be unable to do so, and we would create an unreasonable expectation on our services,” he said. “Even if we were to address these needs right now, the demand keeps increasing. […] It’s just not sustainable, we need to find solutions that are more creative.”

Asked by Ayukawa whether the University could commit to maintaining current levels of service after 2016, Dyens said, “There’s no way we can commit to this. What we can commit to is [to] try as hard as we can to do it.”

Mission statement

Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures & Equity) Lydia White presented for approval an updated mission statement and a statement of principles for McGill. Taking into consideration feedback from the discussion of the proposed changes at the February 18 Senate meeting, the Academic Policy Committee (APC) revised the proposed statement by removing “engaging the wider community” from the mission statement and revising the principles to be “academic freedom, integrity, responsibility, equity, and inclusiveness.”

Greenspon and Ayukawa raised concerns over the insufficient emphasis on teaching in the mission statement, and on students as recipients of education. “It’s emphasizing research a bit more than teaching,” said Ayukawa.

The new mission statement was approved, with one vote against.

Research conduct regulation review

Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations) Rosie Goldstein verbally updated Senate on the progress of the review of McGill’s Regulation on the Conduct of Research. A working group charged with making recommendations to this effect was struck last fall.

Although it recommended some changes to the regulation itself, the working group mostly made procedural recommendations to improve the implementation of existing rules. Among these were two items to be added to the standard research approval process: a statement that the researcher “has considered the consequences of the research,” and an indication whether the sponsor of the research “operates harmful applications into which research could foreseeably be incorporated,” with an explanation of the balance of benefits and harms of the research if necessary.

Goldstein said that she would conduct consultation among the vice-principals and the deans before bringing the report of the committee to Senate in the fall.

“My expectation was that the report would be made public [today],” said Stewart-Kanigan. “Members of the community haven’t been able to see any sign of the work we’ve done so far.”

Medicine faculty council

Senate approved the creation of a faculty council for the Faculty of Medicine, to be composed of representatives from faculty leadership, academic staff, and students.

“The Faculty of Medicine was perhaps unique in the university in not having a formal faculty council,” said Dean of Medicine David Eidelman.

The council will act as an advisory body to the dean, and will review its terms of reference within two years.