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Senate reviews whistleblowing policy

International tuition deregulation and budget also discussed

McGill’s Senate convened for its third meeting of the year on November 18 to discuss the financial state of the university and international tuition deregulation. It also approved revisions to the Policy on Safe Disclosure.

International tuition deregulation

Arts Senator Erin Sobat and Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke submitted a question regarding the conflict between the University’s continued push for international tuition deregulation in all programs and its professed commitment to financial accessibility for international students. Sobat expressed skepticism as to how the University could proceed with deregulation without making sacrifices either in terms of educational accessibility or revenue generation.

In response, Principal Suzanne Fortier argued that the two are not incompatible, noting that “the funding formula in Quebec is so complicated” that this might not be obvious at first glance. In regulated programs, international student tuition is redistributed among all Quebec universities; in contrast, deregulation would allow McGill to keep the entirety of its international tuition fees, a portion of which could then be used to enhance bursary programs, Fortier explained.

Medicine Senator David Benrimoh noted that studies have shown that an increase in tuition combined with an increase in bursary programs slightly improves accessibility for lower-class applicants, but reduces it for the middle class.

“We’ve been working very hard […] to establish special financing programs […] through philanthropic donors,” Provost Christopher Manfredi said in response. “That is a perennial problem, I understand that.”

Financial situation and budget

Reporting on the financial state of the university, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa informed senators that the university’s financial deficit went up from $95 million to $98 million in the past year, and that its provincial operating grant decreased from $353 million in 2013-14 to $341 million in 2014-15.

The accumulated costs for the deferred maintenance of McGill’s building and IT infrastructure are estimated at $1.3 billion, Di Grappa said, and the bond McGill plans to issue to cover these costs risks lowering its credit rating. He also noted that enrolment has increased by 1.24 per cent between 2014 and 2015.

Arts Faculty Senator Derek Nystrom noted that student enrolment has been increasing even as the number of tenure-track faculty has remained “fairly static.” According to his calculations, between 2011 and 2014, student enrolment has increased at a rate of 32 students per faculty member, while the overall ratio is of 23 to 24 students per faculty member.

“We’re adding students at a much higher rate than we’re adding faculty members, which is bad news for all sorts of reasons,” said Nystrom.

Speaking to 2016-17 budget planning, Provost Christopher Manfredi said that the Quebec government is planning to shed an additional $200 million in education funding, despite the fact that “there was the news recently that the province [is] in a surplus situation.” According to Manfredi’s estimate, this cut will likely amount to a reduction of 2 to 2.5 per cent to McGill’s provincial operating grant.

Whistleblowing policy and student discipline

Senate approved revisions to the Policy on Safe Disclosure, which aims to protect people who disclose academic, financial, and research misconduct at McGill. The policy, which was reviewed by a working group struck for that purpose, now includes additional procedural guarantees for those accused of misconduct, as well as measures to increase the policy’s visibility, such as the addition of a statement of principles and of the word “whistleblowing” to the policy’s title.

“It’s an uneven playing field; the point of the statement of principles is to even out the playing field. To present it as if it’s already a level playing field [is misleading].”

University Libraries Senator Marc Richard expressed concern that the statement of principles did not commit to protecting the reputation of the accused respondents who are found innocent. Richard moved to amend the sentence reading “All reasonable steps shall be taken to protect the position, reputation, privacy and confidentiality of the ‘discloser’” to include the respondent as well.

Angela Campbell, Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures & Equity) spoke against the amendment, arguing that the policy has provisions to protect the respondent, but that this should not be included in the preamble, since the policy is meant first and foremost to protect the “discloser.”

Benrimoh concurred, saying, “It’s an uneven playing field; the point of the statement of principles is to even out the playing field. To present it as if it’s already a level playing field [is misleading].”

The amendment was defeated, and the revisions were passed as presented.

Presenting the 2014-15 annual report of the Committee on Student Discipline, Associate Dean of Students Glenn Zabowski noted that the year was the fourth in a row with a decline in the overall number of disciplinary cases, and the second consecutive year with a decline in cases of cheating. The total number of cases decreased from 276 in 2013-14 to 240.