School of Environment gets go-ahead

KARL JAROSIEWICZ | The new year's ice storm disrupted more than a week of classes. It caused the first scheduled Senate meeting of 1998 to be cancelled. In addition, it interfered with plans by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) to hold a nationwide action to protest against the federal government's cuts in transfer payments to the provinces.

On January 28, students in some parts of Canada took to the streets and occupied the halls and offices of the big banks. Television cameras recorded police officers engaged in shoving matches with students, many of whom carried placards calling for greater financial assistance and even free tuition.

Quebec students, dealing with power failures during the organization phase, were left frozen out of the protest and have scheduled a local demonstration for February 11.

This set the stage for a trio of motions initiated by the Post-Graduate Students' Society and presented by the group's university and academic affairs coordinator, Anna Kruzynski, at the February 4 Senate meeting.

The first motion called for Senate "to support, in principle, the students in Quebec who will be fighting for accessible publicly funded education on February 11, 1998, and join them in condemning federal cutbacks to transfer payments and resultant provincial cutbacks to education."

No voice was raised against the motion. One would be hard pressed to find a member of Senate in favour of government cutbacks. Devoid of references to free tuition or other controversial issues, it was a motion that couldn't fail.

Unmoved by motion

However, this wasn't the case with the next resolution, which called for Senate "to recommend to the Board of Governors that students receiving salaries or financial aid in the form of Teaching Assistantships and Research Assistantships not be penalized for failure to work on February 11, 1998 and not be required to make up hours that they would have worked for the duration of the action."

"I can't support this," responded Professor Nicholas de Takacsy, "because students in classes and labs may be left without assistance."

Vice-Principal (Research) Pierre Bélanger opposed the motion on the grounds that "we've already lost enough time this semester due to the ice storm.'"

Professor Patrick Farrell tried to have the motion declared out of order because "it's not Senate's business." Principal Bernard Shapiro refused, saying that it represented the legitimate opinion of a member of Senate.

"We should, nevertheless, recognize that we would have to pay for this," said Vice-Principal (Academic) Bill Chan. He also noted that it would be difficult to reschedule classes and labs, especially because extra days have already been added to the semester to make up for days lost during the ice storm.

"Still, TAs will want to work things out with their professors," said Kruzynski, "not just leave the labs high and dry." A friendly amendment to delete the part of the motion that exempted TAs from making up the hours at a later date was proposed.

"We'd accept to delete that part," said Kruzynski. The motion was voted down nonetheless.

No academic concessions

Kruzynski presented the third motion: "Be it resolved that the faculty treat participation in the February 11, 1998 day of action as grounds for academic concession. Be it further resolved that faculty be encouraged to reschedule any exams, quizzes, and mandatory assignments scheduled for February 11, 1998."

"What exactly does 'academic concession' mean?" Farrell asked.

"My understanding is that participation will be considered like a medical slip," responded Kruzynski.

She continued by stressing the importance of the protest. "This doesn't happen more than once a year. It's important to send a message to this federal government."

"If it's so important," asked Professor Ted Meighen, "why wasn't this scheduled during spring break?" No one mentioned, however, that Quebec universities don't all schedule spring break during the same week.

The vote was called and the motion was rejected.

Exclusive school?

The Academic Policy and Planning Committee (APPC) asked Senate to approve a motion to establish the McGill School of Environment (MSE). The motion was presented by Vice-Principal Chan who introduced Professor Nigel Roulet, acting director of the school and one of the key people responsible for successfully bringing the project to this stage.

Roulet remarked that there is considerable expertise at McGill, but that "the School of Environment will bring this under one umbrella."

In fact, the MSE will bring together departments, researchers and teachers from disciplines within the Faculties of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Arts, and Science. Roulet described the goal of the school as "drawing on the strengths within each faculty and expanding the boundaries of the disciplines."

He added that this partnership will stimulate intellectual growth and forge strong links between environmental teaching and research components.

However, the good feelings weren't unanimously shared. Dean of Engineering John Dealy lamented the exclusion of his faculty and decried what he called a serious omission in the APPC report presented to Senate. He referred to a passage from the executive summary of the faculty reports attached to the APPC document, saying it implied that the MSE has a monopoly on all environmental engineering expertise at McGill.

"That's not true. The Faculty of Engineering has had such courses for years. All this discussion about being encompassing and inclusive is misleading," Dealy added, bringing a motion to refer the recommendation back to APPC.

Approval urged

Farrell noted that the offending passage came from the Faculty of Arts report, not the executive summary. In fact, well known in Senate for demanding that all i's be dotted and all t's crossed before any document is approved, Farrell said he was breaking with tradition and calling for approval on principle.

"What we're being asked to do is approve the establishment of the school with no detail about how it will function once established. Do not vote to refer this one because it won't make it into the course calendar in time for next year. That would be a mistake."

"I caution Senate against the idea that if it's not all inclusive, it can't go ahead,' said de Takacsy. "Addressing the interests of the three faculties was a major achievement."

He added that the reason the professional schools (Medicine and Law, as well as Engineering) were left out of the original agreement had to do with accreditation by their respective professional associations which vigilantly monitor programs.

"But it [the situation] will evolve," he predicted.

Dean of Arts Carman Miller also said that the goal is to broaden membership once the MSE is established.

"Look at what this is, not what it isn't," said Dean of Science Alan Shaver. "It's an attempt by three faculties to merge their programs." He blamed the previous lack of cohesion regarding environmental teaching and research within McGill on turf wars.

Professor Sam Noumoff quoted an old student of his who's now enrolled in York University's environmental program. "This person bemoaned the lack of a corresponding program at McGill, saying that York's program was attracting many students from McGill."

Dean of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Deborah Buszard said that this type of program breaks down barriers, and, ironically, uses a model for sharing courses and professors that her faculty currently uses to share agricultural engineering programs with the Faculty of Engineering. But she stated that this was just the beginning.

"I believe that we're inventing the future of McGill."

Picking up on a comment by Vice-Principal Chan, Dealy said, "I'll drop the motion...if we can use Chan's statement to add a proviso that all faculties will be consulted."

This was done and the recommendation to approve the creation of the MSE was accepted. Buszard later thanked, on behalf of Senate, "all of the people who worked on the MSE, especially Nigel Roulet."