by Karl Jarosiewicz
The numbers of students and staff are in flux at McGill. Enrolment is down, but only slightly, reported Vice-Principal (Academic) Bill Chan at the last meeting of Senate on December 4.
Leaving up, hiring down
The total number of students at McGill dropped from 31,592 in 1995-96 to 30,945 in 1996-97. While this is the first time the rate has declined at McGill in the past three years, the same thing is happening elsewhere.
"This is part of a national trend," said Chan. It's too early to predict what this means. The actual numbers are not significant, and the next term may even show an increase. At the same time, Chan said the number of international students continues to rise.
The Report to Senate on Full-Time Academic Hires and Departures showed a drop in the number of academic staff members. The figures for the first quarter of fiscal 1996 (June 1 to August 31) revealed a dramatic increase in the number of departures, rivalling the figures for the entire period June 1, 1994 to May 31, 1995, and even exceeding those from June 1, 1995 to May 31, 1996. The report notes that this is "due to effects of the Enhanced Early Retirement Program."
Another contributing factor is the hiring freeze. And while this has been effective in reducing the burden on the University's strained budget, it has left the institution vulnerable to inflated class sizes and poorer academic service to students.
"Can we sustain further loss of academic staff and still maintain a high degree of excellence?" Chan asked rhetorically.
A motion to move
When is a home not a home? That question was left to Senate to decide when the 285th Report of the APPC (Academic Policy and Planning Committee) recommended the administrative transfer of the School of Computer Science from the Faculty of Engineering to the Faculty of Science.
"The proposal, initiated by the School, was "strongly endorsed by the Faculty of Science," according to the report. The Faculty of Engineering felt otherwise.
Among the arguments put forward by the School to persuade the APPC were "the facts that the School of Computer Science is a science and deserves a stable home as a regular department in a faculty; and the School's undergraduate program has always been administered by the Faculty of Science."
Before making its recommendation, the APPC heard presentations from a number of people including the deans of the two faculties, Professor Luc Devroye, director of the School, and Jeffery Erlich, a second-year student in Computer Science.
Dean of Engineering John Dealy told Senate he remains unconvinced that the basis for the APPC's decision is a sound one. "The telegraphic statement in this report is not satisfactory," said Dealy. "There's not a consensus in the School of Computer Science. In a vote, 10 members were for, four against, and four were absent. That's not enough!"
He added that Computer Science is a "remarkable and outstanding unit of which the Faculty of Engineering is justly proud."
He said that while computer science may be a science, it is actually closer to electrical engineering than anything else. "It is software engineering!"
He admitted that "most degrees are administered by Science," yet downplayed the importance of that fact. He added that computers are not a flash in the pan.
"[The Department of] Computer Engineering is the fastest growing department in Engineering. The same can be said of the School of Computer Science."
"The reality is Computer Science is redefining itself as we've all been told to do," said Dean of Science Alan Shaver. "It's a grassroots expression: they've defined their field and their place in it. Bottom-to-top planning should be encouraged." He noted that most computer science degrees are BScs and that the change would allow more "internal consistency."
Thoughts and actions
"The University has long neglected information sciences," said Professor Maier Blostein. "We'll have to play catch-up for years." But he cautioned against rushing into this change.
"We need specific plans to limit needless duplication in the future. We should table this motion. Too often we act before we think. This time maybe we can think before we act."
Former Dean of Religious Studies Donna Runnalls expressed some misgivings about the change, saying that there is always a real reason behind the academic explanation for these moves.
"I remain unswayed by the arguments presented," she said.
"If we run this University from the bottom up, we'll run into chaos," said Professor John Gruzleski.
Noting that computer science isn't always what people think it is, Professor Nicholas de Takacsy said, "It's an academic discipline. Much of the work done by the School is theoretical, not necessarily what people see as computers on their desktops. Look through the programs of Computer Engineering and Computer Science; they're not the same. They have only two courses in common."
He stated that this move "does not imply any change to the relationship between the various parts, or impediment to the interchange between units. This is an administrative change where the academic interests are more in tune with [the School's] sense of itself."
The wisdom of Solomon
Professor Bruce Shore stated that as an observer, "there is something missing" in the argument. "Perhaps it needs more time. Don't ask Senate to make a Solomon's decision."
An amendment put forward by Blostein to either table the proposal or return it to the APPC met with resistance. Not among its supporters; other senators objected to returning yet another proposal to the APPC.
"I wonder if this is worth discussing," said Board of Governors representative David Cohen. "APPC has considered the issue. Students, staff, the School of Computer Science and the Faculty of Science all agree. This could just become an interminable turf war."
"The issue I raised has been twisted," said Blostein. "There is a financial component" which hasn't been addressed.
"I'll vote against it," said Professor Roger Rigelhof. "The APPC did its job. I like the idea of Senate making a decision once in a while."
The amendment to table the proposal was defeated. The question on the original motion was called and carried by the majority.
The net effect is that the School of Computer Science will now be transferred from the Faculty of Engineering to the Faculty of Science.