Equity issues revisited

KARL JAROSIEWICZ | Equity issues were once again on the agenda of the October 14 Senate meeting. Presenting the Federal Contractor's Program (FCP) Second Compliance Review Report, 1998, Vice-Principal (Academic) Bill Chan said that this report "reviews the progress made over the past five years."

He stated that McGill has over $2 million in contracts through FCP, which is by no means insignificant. Keeping those contracts depends on compliance with employment equity policies specified under the FCP. The goal is to increase the representation and number of women and minority groups in the work force.

"Composition of the workforce has been influenced more by our dwindling budget and attrition than anything else," Chan noted. "However, policies have been created that address the inequities. Also, our Department of Human Resources has been in constant touch with the FCP office."

Chan added that, despite a smaller workforce, "the number of women hired is comparable to the available pool of applicants."

Among the accomplishments listed in the report are policies and procedures that were implemented over the five years since the first report. These include a policy on harassment and discrimination, a policy on accommodation of religious holy days, a parking policy for staff with disabilities, a policy concerning the rights of students with disabilities, and revision of the regulations concerning complaints of sexual harassment. Also listed is the new First Peoples' House, a video project on diversity in the classroom, and the report of APPC Advisory Committee on Educational Equity, which was presented to Senate last month.

The report claims that most of the 45 recommendations outlined by the University in its first compliance report have been addressed. "More than two-thirds have been completed or are ongoing, and the other third have not yet been addressed.

"Severe budget reductions and University restructuring and reorganization have impeded progress in some areas," states the report. "Nonetheless, significant changes have taken place." By way of proof, the report mentions that the Joint Senate-Board Committee on Equity has been restructured, and "four subcommittees (Subcommittee on Women, Subcommittee on Race and Ethnic Relations, Subcommittee on Persons with Disabilities, and Subcommittee on Aboriginal Peoples) have been established."

Professor Sam Noumoff acknowledged the "enormous job" that the report represented, but said "the explanations given are not all credible." Referring to the number of women hired compared to the available pool, Noumoff stated that "the argument may be accurate but it's not persuasive." He said that more aggressive recruitment is needed to rectify the imbalance.

Noumoff also noted that the report doesn't list data since 1996. "Have we made any progress since then?" he asked.

Robert Savoie, executive director of human resources, said, "we don't have any current data because we're switching systems. There'll be a report next year."

"Does that mean January?" asked Principal Bernard Shapiro.

"It will probably be in the middle of the year," replied Savoie.

"Can we have updates along the way?" asked Noumoff.

"That's a useful suggestion," added Shapiro.

During the presentation of the Report on Administrative and Support Staff Count as of May 31, 1998, Professor Malcolm Baines noted that the numbers of support staff continue to spiral downward.

"What is our long-term goal? Are there fixed staff to student ratios? Is anyone looking at the levels?"

"You've raised the most critical point at this time," said Vice-Principal Chan. "Without added revenue, the numbers will continue to decline. It's a straightforward mathematical conclusion." He noted that service to students will, of course, decline correspondingly.

Principal Shapiro noted that the increasing number of accountability reports demanded by government is consuming staff time at the expense of service to students. "Just look at the number of people it takes to write these reports."

He also stated that we need more middle management staff at McGill. "I'm very concerned about the administrative interface between the University and students. We do not treat these people [students] properly. We must improve on the situation by changing the culture, not just the numbers."

Concerning the constant government cutbacks that have eroded the operating budget, Shapiro said, "We don't have a large number of options available. Ceaseless lobbying of government has had no effect. I'm not worried about the immediate future, but for the generation that succeeds us."