Volume 29 - Number 17 - Thursday, May 29, 1997

Senate highlights

by Karl Jarosiewicz

The following report encompasses the Senate meetings held on May 7 and May 21.

At the earlier meeting, Senate approved a recommendation made in the 290th Report of the Academic Policy and Planning Committee (APPC) to establish guidelines for self-funded programs at McGill. The guidelines would, among other things, ensure that quality is not compromised, provide an assessment for financial aid for such programs, and develop rules for how revenues from these programs would be distributed. The programs would be reviewed frequently to allow the University to learn from its experiences.

Public vs. private

Professor Sam Noumoff called these programs "a disguised form of privatization. We should be discussing this issue out front." He called into question the notion that the quality of programs would not be jeopardized, saying they will "be compromised by profit-driven, not curiosity-driven, research."

PGSS representative Anna Kruzynski stated her fear that these programs would cater to elite students capable of paying the higher costs. "Is this the direction we want to take? Can public and private programs co-exist?"

Professor Gary Wihl criticized the policy for not providing a comprehensive funding formula for the entire University, instead leaving too much up to individual faculties.

"On that basis, it's erratic and unpredictable." Nevertheless, he said the likelihood of "the University going private is remote."

The policy had supporters, including Professor Nick de Takacsy, who said that despite his objection to privatized programs, he supported this policy because "we've already opened up the door [to such programs] and people are walking through it."

Kruzynski said that students had been calling for a discussion on this subject all year. Receiving it this late in the calendar "is frustrating and underhanded. The document is inadequate."

Dean of Students Rosalie Jukier called for an amendment to guarantee that 20% of the revenue from such programs be earmarked for student aid. "Day to day, I see students even from self-funded programs who say, 'I can't pay for this.'"

The amended policy was adopted.

Tackling renewal

Both the May 7 and May 21 sessions featured discussions of a document called "Renewal at McGill." The culmination of a process begun by the discussion paper "Towards a New McGill" and brought to fruition by the Macdonald Commission, the Planning and Priorities Committee and the APPC, the document was originally presented by Principal Bernard Shapiro to Senate at its April 2 meeting.

Noumoff had made a motion to expand discussion of the document into something more profound, stating that Senate had missed an opportunity to seriously debate some important issues fundamental to its mission as a teaching and research institution.

When the document reappeared on the May 7 agenda, many senators were disappointed that Principal Shapiro was unavailable to partake in the discussion. Vice-Principal (Academic) Bill Chan made the presentation this time.

"I find it unacceptable that Principal Shapiro isn't here," said Neil Rooney, PGSS representative. Professor Pat Farrell, who presided, replied that the subject "will not be dealt with completely today, but I believe it should begin."

Mission and morale

Commenting on the general malaise at McGill, Wihl said, "It's a problem of morale; we're in a downward spiral. We should be aware of the good things being done."

"It's a question of whether the University's mission statement should be changed," Kruzynski stated. "Should we include accessibility to education, accountability, protection for academic freedoms, etc.?"

She added that the decision-making process at McGill needs, among other things, more "transparency, as well as greater student representation on the decision-making bodies.

"This administration, through the Board of Governors, should be pushing for better funding," she said. "Education is not currently a priority on the country's political agenda. We should educate the public about the issues and get people to go out and vote."

Vice-Principal (Research) Pierre Bélanger criticized the Senate discussions that led to "Renewal at McGill" for "ducking the one question that related to Graduate Studies."

He said the community doesn't "see the cuts, the reduced grants, the TA budget in decline. I'm putting you on notice a document is being prepared to address our status as a research institution. You ducked it once! You won't duck it a second time."

Identity crisis

"We have inconsistencies between principles stated and policies made," said Noumoff, blaming the low morale at McGill on the deficit reduction plans.

"We've turned this zero-deficit into a religious tenet. Some of us don't accept it. The slash and burn approach associated with the neo-liberalization around us is the most damaging thing."

Dean Alan Shaver stated that we still don't have "a good understanding of our choices. We haven't agreed on the principles, on where we want to be" as an institution in the next few years.

"This is an opportunity to find some common ground. Understanding the words in our mission statement, what they really mean, may go a long way."

He agreed with the Principal's attempt to look at the mission statement in relation to the real world, especially how McGill's research orientation might affect or even include undergraduate students.

Kruzynski warned against "cutting out graduate programs because of 'non-world class' status. Such programs bring with them high-quality professors and teaching assistants. Cutting jeopardizes undergraduate programs as well."

Professor Leanore Lieblein stated that while she is "committed to the public education system...private institutions still have their place in Quebec." She said, however, that the "Towards a New McGill" discussion paper had produced an outcry against both downsizing the institution and turning it into an elitist institution.

"How do we allow ourselves to be both publicly funded and excellent? There's not just a single kind of excellence. We should move in a direction to define what makes us special."

Noumoff made a motion to carry on the discussion at the next meeting. So on May 21 the discussion resumed, with Principal Shapiro present.

Senate, part two

"There is a thin line between leadership and autocracy," began Noumoff. "Morale is deeply affected by the [administration's] unwillingness to engage in meaningful discussion."

He added that dissenting viewpoints must be heard as part of the process. "My point of view, over nearly three decades in this chamber, has not prevailed. But I insist on making it heard."

Kruzynski asked Shapiro if "our comments had been transmitted by VP Chan?" She invited him to speak to the discussion. Shapiro stated that he'd only received feedback from the minutes of the meeting. However, he had several comments to make.

He said that he disagreed with Kruzynski's appeal to support mediocre graduate programs just to maintain "some connection with undergraduate programs." He said that "the only thing that truly makes McGill different is the level of quality and its international networks."

In reply to Noumoff's comments, he said "turning zero-deficit into a religion" is not what's going on. "The budget is a result of a partnership between the Board and the University," with all the fiscal responsibilities that that entails.

"I wouldn't worry about the deficit if I could figure out how to pay it back. We can't mortgage the University forever. It's not a morale issue, just a balance between now and the future."

Elite or excellent?

On the prickly subjects of privatization and downsizing, Shapiro revealed that he'd never felt strongly in favour of a smaller McGill, only in sustaining the level of quality.

He said that he was now "acting on the premise that that's not the direction we're going in. I'm not in favour of privatization either. The term itself is confusing. A private university still serves a public function. It doesn't even mean private in terms of funding." He noted that Harvard receives more government money than McGill does.

"I don't like to use the words 'private' or 'privatization.' We're forced to redefine the partnership that funds McGill. The current model is falling apart. Twenty years of cuts should have taught us something. I'm not saying give up trying, but be realistic."

He added that McGill can only sustain itself through high standards and noted that this was itself a form of elitism.

Kruzynski said she was especially interested in the issue of elitism. "There are two forms of elitism: the kind that limits enrolment by high standards, and another kind that limits accessibility based on the ability to pay high tuition." She said the latter denied access to excellent students.

"We don't want to deny access based on financial considerations," replied Shapiro. He ended by saying that the set of recommendations produced through this procedure will begin to be implemented this fall.

The last of its kind

McGill's final budget for 1997-1998 was presented by Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Phyllis Heaphy on May 21 with a foreword by Principal Shapiro. Essentially, it's the same plan that was discussed in Senate in February (see Reporter, February 27).

Shapiro stated that "this budget model has outlived its usefulness." He said that beginning next year, the budget would show the complete operating costs for the University and include information on capital funds as well.

He called the fact that the University was able to present a balanced budget "almost a miracle. The tragedy of the budget situation is that we're not replenishing our stock."

Heaphy said that while we'll have a balanced budget and the debt will actually be reduced, this is through a contribution from the endowment fund and because of lower interest rates that continue to provide some breathing space.

She noted that students would not be charged the $255 per year increase anticipated in the earlier draft of the budget, but rather would have to pay $140 in new fees.

Included in that amount is a new registration charge of $80, but there will be no attempt to fold in other existing charges, and a new information technology fee of $60 per year, which would help pay for enhanced modem access, and would permit 10 hours of free Internet access instead of the current four hours.

"The ministry is totally aware of these charges and they will not oppose us," concluded Heaphy.

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