October 24, 1996

Senate highlights

by Karl Jarosiewicz Senate was presented with the 1995/96 Annual Report of the Assessors of Sexual Harassment at its October 9 meeting. Professor Pat Wells, one of the University's four sexual harassment assessors, reported that of the 17 cases brought to the attention of McGill's assessors, only four required formal procedures.

According to Wells, a physical and occupational therapy professor, "Behaviour has improved. We feel that the educational seminars are helping. An educated public will help eradicate the problem."

The report notes that Student Aid director Judy Stymest has resigned as an assessor after "five years of dedicated service." Sharon Bezeau, the recorder for the Student Affairs Office of the Faculties of Arts and Science, will replace her.

Principal Bernard Shapiro believes the duties performed by key volunteers such as the sexual harassment assessors should be shared more broadly. Shapiro stated that the University will be "putting in place a systematic replacement scheme. This will expand the experience to others across campus and not overload individuals."

Students' Society of McGill University vice-president (university affairs) Don McGowan asked when the long-anticipated revisions to McGill's sexual harassment policy will be put into effect.

Vice-Principal (Academic) Bill Chan replied that a revised policy should come before Senate "within the next couple of meetings."

Students' concerns

Social work professor Estelle Hopmeyer, McGill's ombuds-person for students, presented her office's ninth annual report. The official mandate of the ombuds-person is "the impartial investigation and informal resolution of complaints by McGill students who feel their rights have not been respected by some member of the McGill Community."

"I'm neither part of the administration nor a student advocate," explained Hopmeyer. "I have no real power except the power of persuasion."

Hopmeyer notes in her report that students who seek out the ombudsperson frequently just want information and "once I have provided the answer, the student is able to proceed on his or her own behalf. Often it is important to validate the concern of the student which is accomplished by listening to them."

She added, "Students do remark that no one has listened to them before."

Hopmeyer indicated that in other more formal cases, she refers students to the University's Legal Information Clinic, which she credited as "an extraordinary resource for our students."

In all, Hopmeyer's office recorded 288 cases from September 1, 1995 to August 31, 1996.

A nice surprise

In discussing the University's current financial state, Vice-Principal (Administration & Finance) Phyllis Heaphy adopted a tone of mock discomfort. "How could we have planned this badly?" she asked. "We have a net surplus of $3.5 million dollars." The surplus is good--if unexpected--news, and it will go towards repayment of McGill's accumulated deficit.

The "bad planning" was the result of many unforeseen factors. A lower than expected Quebec grant cut, an enrolment increase, an infusion of money for the construction of the new gymnasium, and a higher than anticipated allotment of cash from the province towards the indirect costs of research--all played a part towards the surplus.

"It makes us look kind of silly," joked Heaphy. "But it doesn't happen every year."

Interest rates also influenced McGill's budget. "We carry a large debt and interest rates are important." Over the past two years, the interest on the accumulated deficit and other debts has been budgeted at eight percent. However, the actual bank rate has been closer to six percent. This year, the rate fell just below six percent, resulting in even greater savings.

"We can't be too optimistic when preparing a budget, because the interest rates could easily swing the other way," Heaphy explained.

Not all the news is good. Heaphy noted that "ongoing legal costs are high." She indicated that some of the individuals dismissed from Facilities Management last year are contesting their dismissals.

She also commented on the closure of the University Business Operations unit. Although the "head office was supposed to be paid for by the profits from the photocopy service, these never materialized." The office was recently disbanded, with three of the eight members choosing early retirement and the rest being relocated. Referring to the red ink produced by this unit, Heaphy said, "This will never happen again."

Another unit under scrutiny is Printing Services which lost over $500,000 over the past two years.

"We're not shutting it down," Heaphy hastened to add. In fact, she encouraged the University to support the service. "Please use it for its excellent service and prices." She projected that "Printing Services would break even this year."

The special early retirement plan for support staff and faculty increased the debt by $13.3 million this year, but will result in long term salary savings of $8.8 million per year. The full benefit will only be felt next year, but approximately $4 million to $5 million will make its way back into the budget this year. Even more encouragingly, the plan "will be paid for in two years" and the "deficit will return to its June 1, 1995 low of $66 million by the end of the current year."

On the subject of staff

After finishing her report, Heaphy was targeted for some aggressive questioning from electrical engineering professor Maier Blostein.

Blostein wanted to know what was being done to ensure that service units would turn a profit. Heaphy responded that some of these units--the Bookstore, for one--are making a profit. In the Bookstore's case, these profits are being used to pay off the store's building construction loan. Heaphy added that because many of these units employ unionized staff, the costs associated with running them are higher than they would be with non-unionized workers.

"I'm not criticizing that, just explaining," she stated. She added, "We're making attempts to run all services as if they were businesses."

Blostein asked why the University tolerates a situation where it has to pay more than it would without unionized workers.

Heaphy explained that even if all of McGill's unionized workers left the University, "under Article 45 of the Civil Code, . . . any new workers (unionized or not) would inherit the same rights and benefits."

"Would the taxpayers support this if they knew?" replied Blostein.

Political science professor Sam Noumoff cautioned against turning "to cannibalism against our unions." Principal Shapiro agreed and again expressed his dismay (as he did at the last Senate meeting) that some professors are displaying unwarranted contempt towards non-academic staff.

"It's important to repeat that the messages, such as the vicious e-mail that I've been receiving against other people--colleagues--is not healthy. Be critical, but try to keep it from targeting 'Us and Them.' It isn't helpful."

He commented that it is essential that all McGill services "remain efficient." To do this, units will have to reorganize their procedures and staff.

"What is going to happen is that the number of people on relocation will be increased. It gives me no pleasure to do this," said Shapiro. "But we've got to focus on where the problems are."

However, he stated bluntly, "Firing people is not the way we work in this community."

Where the money should go

A report from the Academic Policy and Planning Committee (APPC) recommended that the University establish guidelines for fundraising for "essential activities that in happier times have been supported from base budgets."

Quoting Principal Shapiro, the document notes that university funding involves "a partnership that includes governments, students, alumni, donors ... but the relative fiscal contribution of governments will decline so that the other partners will have to bear a greater share of the burden."

Following the success of the Twenty-First Century Fund Campaign, the University's fund-raising efforts will continue, but in a more focused fashion.

The APPC document lists eight guidelines and targets for private giving: endowed chairs in existing or selected new areas; endowments that support finite term appointments of junior and distinguished scholars; scholarships and fellowships--essential to maintaining an outstanding student body; library acquisitions; technological innovation--including distance education and teleconferencing; the maintenance of our infrastructure and the improvement of classroom facilities; limited new building projects; and a resolution that no donations should "be solicited (or perhaps even accepted) for low priority projects if they lead to a reallocation of operating funds to these projects."

Education professor John Wolforth asked if there would be "a separate fundraising campaign to pay off the deficit."

"No," replied Chan.

"I would like to see a new bullet added to include deficit reduction as a goal," stated education professor Bruce Shore. He noted that if donors prefer to choose from several options, why not give them the choice.

The suggestion was made into a motion and after some discussion, passed as the ninth guideline of the document.

Post Graduate Students' Society representative Anna Kruzynski criticized the report, charging that it encouraged the further "privatization" of the University. Kruzynski believes that McGill administrators are all too willing to accept that government support for universities will continue to decline.

The document "assumes that [government funding] will dry up," she read from a prepared speech. Kruzynski argued that Senate should formulate clear positions on subjects such as corporate involvement in McGill programs before it solicits more donations from the private sector. She called for the document to be referred back to APPC.

"I must speak against this," said SSMU's Don McGowan. As a member of APPC McGowan was concerned that, "everything keeps being referred back to APPC. God forbid that APPC should actually have to do new work this year."

Board of Governors representative David Cohen spoke against the PGSS position, saying, "It ignores the fact that we don't have the luxury of deciding where our money is coming from."

"This is a well-structured document helping us decide what to do with money when it's offered," said Vice-Principal (Graduate Studies and Research) Pierre Bélanger.

The question was called and the motion to refer was defeated.

The new guidelines were voted on and approved with the exception of one section which was deleted in aticipation of further study. This section dealt with how departments and units would go about securing formal University approval for new fundraising programs.