Senate highlights

by Karl Jarosiewicz

There was a disproportionate number of sabbatical leaves granted in 1994-95 by the Department of Political Science, said student representative Lisa Grushcow at the Senate meeting of November 22. She asked if the University had a policy which dealt with this problem and, if yes, how it would be applied.

Vice-Principal Bill Chan agreed that the number of sabbaticals granted within that department was high. This resulted in a "significant number of courses" that were not available to students.

"I will not try to apportion blame to individuals," he said. However, he had had a meeting with the acting Dean of Arts and the Chair of Political Science which produced a decision to add extra courses during the second term.

"The department is taking a number of steps to ensure that no more than four professors are granted leave at any one time." This policy is now in effect.

Planning for absence

"The University's policy is very clear," said Chan. "Sabbatical leave schedules should protect graduate and undergraduate programs."

Grushcow asked if department-level statistics on sabbaticals were distributed and if other departments had similar policies.

Chan replied that the chair of each department must indicate how a program will be covered during a sabbatic leave. This information must be sent to the faculty's dean who in turn forwards it to the Vice-Principal (Academic).

"This information should be available in the course calendar before term starts."

Professor Gaetan Faubert said, "The rules are adequate, but do we have a mechanism to enforce them?"

"Most departments follow the rules and the whole system doesn't break down," replied Chan. "Still it's not fair to students when the rules are ignored."

A new grade of students

Professor Gerald Ratzer presented a motion to change the "current grading scheme of awarding letter grades." His rationale is that the current system awards an 'A' to any grade over 85%, so that "students who are truly outstanding, and used to get 90% and above" have no incentive to demonstrate "just how good they are."

He also argued that "a student with one poor grade has no way to offset this by scoring over 85% in any other course."

He claimed that this penalizes McGill students who fare "poorly in comparison with other Canadian universities which use weighted credit grade averaging over all courses."

His three-part motion included a system of percentage grades for all students, a system of steps for professors who wished to use the letter (78% for B+, 83% for A-, etc.), and cumulative grade point average that would be based on a global average of all the credit weighted percentages.

In addition, he asked that the APPC report back to Senate by 1996 with a detailed implementation schedule "that would allow a cut-over date to percentage based grades by July 1997."

Associate Vice-Principal (Academic) Fumiko Ikawa-Smith indicated that she had already asked APPC to examine the issue. Also, she had suspended a working group set up to discuss the issue "now that this [motion] has arisen."

She added that she would support the motion in principle.

Student representative Doug Brenhouse called for an amendment placing the APPC reporting mechanism at the top of the list and including a substantive review and more discussion on the specifics of an A+ policy.

Professor Roger Rigelhof called the amendment an "excellent idea." It was soon adopted.

Associate Vice-Principal (Graduate Studies) Lydia White remarked that the current system "doesn't affect everyone the same way." She noted that Humanities and Social Science students actually find some advantages in the current system. "A dual system might be useful."

The motion with the amendment was voted on and carried.

Support staff changes

Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Phyllis Heaphy presented a report on middle-management and executive positions from May 1995. She noted that the "growth has slowed down" and that reductions are expected to start showing up in the figures. She said that a decrease for the current year of 15 people is not shown.

"It's encouraging, if encouraging means fewer staff positions," she said. Similar numbers will probably be cut from the academic staff as well.

Furthermore, she mentioned that there are "fewer and fewer people blindly doing routine things." She said that in some areas there has been an increase in M-level positions and a reduction of clerical positions, reflecting a trend toward more responsible and empowered staff positions.

"Ultimately, this will result in savings. We must look at the global picture."

Professor John Sheppard asked what was the rationale for equal cuts for support staff and academic staff.

"Shouldn't we cut more support staff?" he said, referring to the importance of the academic mission of the University.

Heaphy noted that most of the middle management increases had been from within the faculties, not from the University. She mentioned that many complaints are made about not having enough secretarial and administrative people to do the work we have. Greater cuts might reduce some fundamental services.

In response to a question from Professor Faubert, Heaphy said that almost all people on relocation are technical staff. "There are practically no Ms." Additionally, there are not enough Cs to do the work in demand.

Trimming the middle

Professor Ted Meighen asked if there was a trend towards an increase in the operating budget for middle management and executive salaries.

Heaphy replied that "most indicators show that it is decreasing." In fact, all increases have come from within the faculties.

Vice-Principal (Graduate Studies and Research) Pierre Bélanger stated, in reference to the demand for more cuts, that "the situation is not that simple. There are differences between academic and administrative work. For academics the goal is to cover as much as possible. For administrative work, it's not coverage that counts, it's efficiency!"

He said that you can't cut services unless you wish to pass the workload to someone else.

"It's got to go somewhere," he said, adding, "I've always been impressed with the support staff and their loyalty. I would hate to see these people stabbed in the back."

In conclusion, Heaphy remarked about her own office, "We don't even file stuff anymore. We throw it in the garbage. We used to have a filing clerk. People have to be more flexible; they're doing things not in their job descriptions anymore."

Academic staff report

Presenting a similar report on academic staff, Vice-Principal Chan remarked that cuts in the funding and the numbers of staff "will eventually affect academic quality. This is something that we have to let the government and public know."

Enrolment has increased, he said, while budgets have decreased. Inevitably, there will be two choices: larger class sizes or fewer classes.

Harassment cases down

The Ninth Annual Report of the Assessors of Sexual Harassment was presented by Professor Patricia Wells. She reported that there was a decrease in the number of formal cases, meaning that "many people are resolving their problems themselves."

She noted that the educational seminars for support staff and academics are proving to be very fruitful.

"I'd like to encourage the students to hold similar sessions," she said.

Comparing McGill to places like UBC where an entire department's graduate program was disrupted by accusations of harassment, our University handles complaints very well. Instead of ignoring them, they are dealt with promptly.

Increased awareness

"My finding is that many people don't understand what sexual harassment is. They're not even aware of it when they've done it." She said that education is therefore very helpful.

Professor Sheppard noted that of the seven formal cases, three defendants were vindicated. He asked if this implied "false accusations."

Wells said that "we found in two of the cases that they were unfounded. The third case was reviewed by the Principal and he found evidence lacking."

One questioner asked if the fact that the assessors were staff members influenced their decisions.

To this Wells replied, "No assessor I've ever known was biased in any direction!"

She noted that definitions of sexual harassment range from off-colour jokes to stalking and threats. However, "frequent or repeated bad behaviour is the best indicator of real sexual harassment."

She summed up her report by praising the administration and staff at McGill.

"I'm proud of our deans and chairs. We can tell them that we've found a problem in some area and they'll do something about it."

Referring to the educational seminars offered by the assessors, she said that they "actually had someone come forward saying that they realized that their behaviour was wrong. And that was after a one hour session. That's very powerful."