by Karl Jarosiewicz
A motion was presented to Senate at the April 3 meeting condemning any deregulation of tuition fees by the Quebec government as a matter of academic principle. Proposed by graduate student representatives Linda Carlson and George Lozano, the motion called for Senate to convey the message to Quebec City.
Carlson stated that if Quebec followed the example of Ontario and deregulated tuition fees, "McGill would take advantage of this immediately." She added that this would decrease accessibility and increase student debt loads. She singled out two especially vulnerable groups, poor and graduate students, calculating the cost of tuition and living expenses at approximately $60,000 per degree.
"I agree with the situation," she said, referring to the budget problems of both the University and the government. "But there are other possibilities," beyond raising tuition for students. She enumerated these: reducing administrative costs, lobbying the government, creating new revenue from other sources and renting or selling McGill real estate.
"I can't understand the motion," said a bewildered Vice-Principal (Research) Pierre Bélanger. "Why would Quebec deregulate a system that it pays for? We can argue and pass motions against what may and may not happen if we want to, but why does this come at this particular time?"
"Why now?" responded Carlson. "Because members of this University are lobbying the government to increase tuition fees, especially Principal Shapiro."
Dean of Law Stephen Toope pointed out that there "is a difference between advocating a fee increase and fee deregulation."
Vice-Principal (Academic) Bill Chan stated that he wasn't "so much against the motion," but preferred to send it to APPC for consideration.
He added that the issue was more complex than simply saying "we don't want increased fees, and asking the government to give us more money."
Lozano said that he realized the situation wasn't that simple, but added that "we're asking Senate to take a stand."
Professor John Sheppard said that "voting to maintain government regulation may not mean low fees. They may go up more than even the University would want. I don't know what the students are after."
Carlson replied that "if the University is in charge you'd never know by how much or when" the fees would go up.
"I'm on record against privatization of the University," said Professor Nick de Takacsy. "However, it's not appropriate or even reasonable for Senate to tell itself that we are so out of control that we have to ask another body to impose controls and rules to prevent us from doing something to ourselves."
The motion was voted on and defeated.
A proposed change to the Academic Regulations regarding academic titles set off alarms in Senate. The proposal recommended creating positions called Senior Professor, Senior Librarian and Senior Adjunct Professor.
The idea was to create titles with enough lustre to reward and recognize retiring academics for their many years of service to McGill. The proposal is being considered as part of the Special Voluntary Workload Reduction Plan currently on offer to faculty and support staff by the administration as a cost reduction scheme.
Trouble started when some members of Senate pointed out the lack of details provided in defining continued privileges such as office space, use of computers, Internet and library access.
"How will it be implemented?" asked Professor Edith Aston-McCrimmon. "What perks? How long? It's a mixed message if it's a recognition of long service."
Professor Malcolm Baines attacked the notion of a Senior Adjunct Professor, stating that adjunct professors are not employed exclusively by McGill and that "the University may be assuming a liability which they needn't do" with such a distinction.
Professor Robin Yates said that these new titles and positions "may reduce the value and credibility of an emeritus professor."
Professor Fumiko Ikawa-Smith insisted that the proposal was benign. "This is simply meant to get us old professors to retire." However, Professor John Ripley pointed out a passage which says that Senior Professors would continue to be subject to University regulations.
"If I'm going to be subject to University policies as I totter off to meet my maker... I'll need more explanation about what those policies might eventually be."
Professor Michael DuBow acknowledged that the whole concept "means that nobody wants to retire.... So we spend a long time looking for alternatives. Nothing here changes the fact they're retired." He added that "Senior" was not even a good title.
Eventually, Principal Shapiro asked Chan to withdraw the proposal and to iron out the wrinkles in light of the discussion that had just taken place, and the vice-principal complied.
Professor DuBow asked the principal for an explanation concerning recent articles in the local media. Both Le Devoir and The Gazette had run stories on the weekend preceding Senate stating that McGill and Concordia were close to a merger of library services.
DuBow quoted one article saying that Concordia University's rector Frederick Lowy had said that he didn't want too many details known at this time because it might increase the stress load on employees in the departments under consideration.
"What are the ultimate goals of these talks?" asked DuBow. "Who is aware of the details and what is the process by which we'll be apprised and have input?"
He added that he was "a bit burned at having to learn this from the newspapers."
Shapiro responded by stating that "it is entirely inappropriate for the discussion to go beyond the preliminary stages without those involved participating." However, he added, "I can't control what is being said as I try to raise the level of discussion or what is in the [journalist's] imagination."
He stated categorically that he has no interest in "merger with any other institution. I refuse to have such a discussion." He noted that institutions have different values, histories and roles.
He allowed that there are things that are being discussed with the other Montreal universities--"ways of cooperating for a better or cheaper service or both" and library cooperation within the next year or so.
"Not a merger, but using library budgets to greater effect."
Shapiro said that academic departments must also be encouraged to work more interactively with their counterparts at other institutions, offering a higher level of integration in their programs.
"If we find ways to work better, I want to explore them."
Shapiro stressed that universities must experiment with new ways of collaborating with one another to learn what will work. When Quebec City presents the schools with its own ideas, "We have to show that we know what we're talking about."
He noted that while some services could work more closely with units at sister universities, others like the University Relations Office must promote our University first and foremost. "It would be silly to merge these services."
He went on to say that he was in favour of informing the McGill community of developments. "I have no desire to spare people from stress. I'd like to share it as much as possible."
He concluded that speaking openly with the media leaves one vulnerable.
"We'll sometimes use words that are misinterpreted and become damaging. This will continue as long as we speak to the press." He stated that he may yet be able to set the record straight in an upcoming op-ed piece in The Gazette.