This article has been updated on January 18.
On January 13, McGill Senate held its first meeting of 2016. Items on the agenda were a question regarding divestment from the fossil fuel industry, proposed revisions to the university’s Regulations Concerning the Investigation of Research Misconduct, and the annual reports on Research Performance and Innovation, and Student Life and Learning.
Question regarding divestment
Senators Erin Sobat, Tomer Noyhouzer, and Fiona Ritchie had submitted a question to Senate asking whether “given the scope of the current divestment movement […] and divestment decisions at other institutions,” the University is concerned “that a lack of action on this issue might impact McGill’s academic reputation and integrity as a research institution.”
In his written response, Secretary-General Stephen Strople confirmed that the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) will make a decision by March.
Speaking at Senate, Sobat asked a follow-up question, referring back to the part of the question about McGill’s academic reputation, remarking that Principal Suzanne Fortier “starts most of her remarks with academic reputation.”
“The only thing we’ve seen is, perhaps, that a thorough assessment of the question is what is expected of the university.”
In response, Fortier said, “In terms of reputation, I must say [… some universities] have made decisions [and…] some are still considering. [But] there is no evidence, actually, that it has any impact on reputation in universities. The only thing we’ve seen is, perhaps, that a thorough assessment of the question is what is expected of the university.”
Ritchie asked whether McGill’s indecision regarding divestment would impact the Liberal government’s potential decision to appoint research chairs in the area of sustainable technologies.
“I don’t believe so, no,” Fortier said. “The selection will be made on the quality of the research programs at the university. […] Political questions never enter into these kinds of competitions.”
“Political questions never enter into these kinds of competitions.”
In an interview with The Daily, Sobat expressed his disappointment with the administration’s response, saying, “It wasn’t particularly substantial.”
“I think it was disappointing that [Fortier] did not have more to say on how this will affect […] McGill’s future viability and reputation as a research institution,” Sobat continued.
Research misconduct regulations to be amended
The Academic Policy Committee (APC) proposed revisions to the Regulations Concerning the Investigation of Research Misconduct, which were last amended in May 2010. The proposal comes as part of the regular triennial process for policy revisions as determined by Senate.
One of the more significant proposed amendments is the addition of “mismanagement of research funds” to the definition of forms of research misconduct. According to the APC’s report, this is being added to meet the criteria set by the Tri-Agency, the coalition of Canada’s three major research funding agencies.
“If a complaint is from a student that comes at the beginning of the semester, the outcome will take effect at the end of a research course.”
Another change increases the number of days allocated to investigate allegations of research misconduct from 90 to 120. According to Medicine Senator David Benrimoh, this makes it more difficult for students who might be reporting their concerns to the Research Integrity Officer (RIO), because 120 days roughly corresponds to a full semester.
“If a complaint is from a student that comes at the beginning of the semester, the outcome will take effect at the end of a research course,” Benrimoh said.
In response, McGill’s RIO Abraham Fuks said that the change was done to reflect reality. “It takes more time,” Fuks said. “You’re speaking to an issue of trying to make a process accommodate the needs of the respondent.”
The proposed changes were approved by Senate and will be discussed at the Board of Governors.
Lack of student input in student life and learning
In his report, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens talked about the successes and challenges of handling Student Services. Dyens highlighted issues such as the lack of funding and the increasing demand to health and mental health services.
Senator Doaa Farid argued that the University has been neglecting student consultation in the provision of student services, saying, “If we take the example of our health services, [like the Nutrition, Dietics and Food program] for the past ten years, the student nutrition group was not involved in the whole program.”
“Maybe by involving the professional orders, you could help more students,” Farid said.
“Maybe by involving the professional orders, you could help more students.”
“We have a nutritionist on our dining services, and I think dining services have made improvements,” Dyens said in response. “We’ve been working really hard this year to bring all of the services […] to a more cohesive unit […] where we can create more synergies. […] We are working on this. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Engineering Senator Joshua Thon brought up the negotiations currently taking place between the University and the recently unionized floor fellows. Thon asked what opportunities McGill sees for harm reduction among student services.
Dyens explained, “It’s always been a huge issue for McGill, a huge project for McGill. Harm reduction, the way it was framed a few years ago, is different than what it is today. It is crucially important for McGill in general.”
Speaking to The Daily about Dyens’ response, Sobat said, “The question of harm reduction in floor fellows’ job description is a key part of [the negotiations. …] We’re concerned that there is a lack of understanding from many administrators about what harm reduction is and what it seeks to do, and I think that that was confirmed by the deputy provost’s response.”