McGill Communities Council Newsletter - Inaugural Issue - May 2020

The McGill Communities Council (MCC) was formed, under the initial name McGill Citizens’ Council, in early 2013 following the tumultuous campus events of November 2011, and on the basis of a recommendation in the March 2012 MAUT Report on Governance, Protest and Security. What is the MCC? MCC is the only place where the whole campus community can come together in the absence (except by specific invitation) of the McGill administration. MCC is an intergenerational and interdisciplinary council. It comprises representatives of the various constituent groups that make up McGill: professors, lecturers, undergraduate and graduate students, administrative staff and managers, trades people, researchers, casual employees, and student employees. Our goals are to foster open communication across all sectors and to collectively consider issues that affect everyone in the university community. We don’t always agree, but we can use this venue to find common purpose on issues that affect some, or all, of our organizations. Newsletter The MCC Newsletter aims to be a venue for sharing and exchanging news and views from all sectors of the university about university matters. Views expressed in this newsletter belong solely to each stated author, and not necessarily to the author's employer, association or union, the constituent groups in the MCC, or the MCC as a whole. MCC in the Time of COVID-19 Regular meetings of the MCC are held once a month. Since the shutdown of campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March, the council has met once a week. This weekly meeting has been an important venue for associations across the university to discuss the central administration’s response to COVID-19, raise collective awareness of matters that may not appear in official statements from McGill, and build solidarity across associations and unions.


Editorial: “University Together”

From the beginning of the shutdown, the effects of the crisis have impacted members of our community quite differently. Some of us are essential workers who never stopped going to campus; others are learning the intricacies of online teaching and learning. Many of us are caring for loved ones and dependents while working at a distance. Some of us, such as invigilators and non-academic casuals, have been collectively dismissed from our positions (an especially precarious situation for international student workers) and do not know when we will work again. As we move forward, many uncertainties for our community are emerging, which are related to our safety, our working conditions, the availability of jobs, our benefits and wages, our academic programs, our funding, and our research. With the understanding that we are in an unprecedented time when things are unfolding, we seek to prompt decision-makers at McGill to provide necessary and timely information to all students and employees—this, at a critical moment when the university is ramping up its research activities and planning for a Fall semester that will be largely online. Each group that currently participates and has historically participated in the McGill Communities Council (MCC) (among them AMURE, AMUSE, AGSEM, MCLIU, MAUT, MUNACA, MUNASA, PGSS, SEU, Inter-Generational McGill, and SSMU) is a representative body for students or employees that each works with, alongside, and (at crucial times) against the McGill administration to ensure that your interests are defended. And when our groups work together on issues that affect more than one of us, our power is amplified. At a time when many of us may feel isolated from the McGill community, the MCC newsletter is one way where we hope to reach out to you to share stories, insight, and information from many campus perspectives—some of which you may be acutely aware, and some of which may be outside your experience. We also hope to hear from you to understand your concerns and to better represent your voice to the McGill administration. For this purpose, we have created a comment box: https://forms.gle/6PrNVVVgWHCm2dCNA. We welcome not only your questions for further discussion, but testimonies about your experiences during the COVID-19 crisis—like the ones we have included below. Signed, Kiersten van Vliet Inaugural Issue Editor President, Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) / Présidente, Association des étudiant.e.s diplômé.e.s employé.e.s de McGill (AÉÉDEM) www.agsem.ca

ISSUES OF THE MONTH

Health and Safety during the “Ramp-up” of Research Ranjan Roy, MUNACA  To prepare people for returning to the laboratory, Ranjan Roy Analytical Chemist (permit 2003-124) has prepared a Standard Operating of Procedure for Safe and Effective Laboratory Operations. This document will help all lab workers maintain a 2 metre distance from others, as well as prevent the spread of the virus on shared surfaces and instruments. * Please inform your union or association as well as your work supervisor if you have any questions or concerns about your safety. The University has developed a procedure for reporting non-compliance to safety protocols. * If you are working on campus or returning to work on campus, you are required to read and understand the protocols that have been developed by McGill: Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 on campus. Additionally, information about building access is published online by McGill. * Students and staff who are working in a CHSLD are not allowed to work part-time in a research lab on campus. If you exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 and/or test positive, McGill has a number of protocols you should follow.

Transportation to and from Campus MCC Trains Working Group As the campus and other businesses re-open, public transportation will become increasingly crowded. Physical distancing will be difficult generally, and impossible at rush hours. Compounding the problem, the Mount Royal tunnel was closed on May 11 and thousands of train commuters from Deux Montagnes, Laval, West Island, Saint-Laurent, and TMR will have to travel into Montreal using a combination of shuttle, bus, and metro. Longer transit times and severe overcrowding for all users are the main risk factors for the spread of COVID-19. Now, the McGill community must consider the serious risks to health as well. Massive movement of crowds on and off of buses, shuttles, and metros, are weak links in the safety chain. Commuting should not be a risk factor to anyone’s health.  The closing of the Mont Royal tunnel has been the focus of a working group within the MCC. The COVID-19 health crisis adds another dimension to consider. We encourage the University to implement transportation solutions for the McGill community during what is expected to be an extended pandemic. Increasing the Mac shuttle runs, and allowing staff access, would help those on the Lakeshore. Adding a shuttle bus service on the north side, with stops in Pierrefonds and Saint Laurent before making a direct run to campus, would lower the risk of contagion to staff and students in those areas as on/off movement, and sheer volume, would be greatly reduced. If the existing train stops in Pierrefonds-Roxboro, Sunnybrooke and Bois Franc are used for pick-up, McGill users of the DM train shuttle between Deux Montagnes and Laval could embark as well. Staggered start times during the day should also be implemented.

STORIES FROM OUR UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY

High-Pressure Teaching during COVID-19 Anonymous Contribution Teaching in the time of the Coronavirus is somewhat athletic. Between snacks, arts and crafts, and homeschooling, I manage to answer emails, assist one or 2 or 3 Zoom departmental meetings, prepare meals, and plan my courses. When everything is finally ready, I sit down in front of my computer, kids somewhere in tow, and I teach remotely. I teach with optimism and pleasure. I give my very best COVID self, and I do my utmost to satisfy the university’s expectations. I meet pedagogical challenges while navigating technological stress. I put water in my teacher’s wine and I do it all. I reinvent my style once again, even though I am constantly pressed for time. I adapt because this is what one does in these times if one wants to eat. So this is why, when in front of my class, with my kids parked between my legs, when MyCourses crashes one too many times, when Zoom freezes, or the Internet abandons me, I not only lose face, and grace, but I lose all courage. The courage to send yet another 15 messages to IT services, the courage to explain to my students that “we” are working on it, the courage to make sure once more that it’s not my fault, the courage to smile through gritted teeth, the courage to have ready on hand back up Plans A, B and C, the courage to explain to my kids that no mommy can’t play tonight, mommy’s got to work late, again. This pressure is high for every teacher these days, and certainly not for the faint of heart. Carrying out McGill’s academic mission, and ensuring the intellectual rigor of the university during the pandemic, while class caps are soaring, is ironically a very lonely adventure. All these extra hours invested, not accounted for, not paid, to assure that all goes well, to embrace what we are told is an “exciting opportunity,” so that McGill is, and will continue to be, McGill.  Teaching remotely is a small social contribution in the time of Coronavirus. The fact remains that it can be a constant battle, both technological and psychological, one that we will nevertheless have to accept in the long run. Ensuring proper support, resources, and guidance for professors, lecturers, and teaching assistants is a bare minimum standard for this university, and would make this historic period a shared success, rather than yet another weight on our already tired backs. NEW THIS MONTH: McGill’s Guidelines for Remote Teaching and Learning.

Essential Services at Macdonald Campus Marc Samoisette, Macdonald Campus, Seed Research Lot (essential service) Bonjour! Je m’appelle Marc Samoisette et je travaille au Centre de Recherche Emile A. Lods, au Campus Mac. Depuis le 13 mars, peu de choses ont changé au Centre. J’ai travaillé seul jusqu’au 11 mai alors que les étudiants ont commencé à travailler. Nous devons apprendre à travailler avec des nouvelles mesures de sanitation. Une liste de procédures à suivre concernant la prévention de la contagion au Centre a été établie en collaboration avec les professeurs. Il y a un plan d’urgence prévu au cas où le technicien (moi!) tomberait malade ou serait forcé de s’isoler. Tout le monde collabore bien. Maintenant c’est le temps occupé des semis. Tout se passe bien. Hello! My name is Marc Samoisette and I work at the Emile A. Lods Agronomy Research Centre at Macdonald Campus. Since March 13, little has changed at the Centre. I worked alone until May 11, when the students began to work. We must learn to work with new sanitation measures. A list of procedures to be followed concerning the prevention of contagion at the Centre was established in collaboration with the professors. There is an emergency plan in case the technician (me!) becomes ill or is forced to isolate himself. Everyone collaborates well. Now is the busy time for planting. Everything is going well.

COVID Parental Leave Sherrie Child, Graduate Programs Coordinator, Family Medicine (COVID Parental Leave)  When school, daycare, and university closures were announced, I was finalizing our Department’s summer course schedule, administering written assessments, processing our Fall 2020 applicants, and matching prospective students to supervisors in an effort to get our offers of admission out so I could use our final student numbers to work on the 2020-21 budget. It’s our busiest time of year, with so many moving pieces, looming deadlines. This year, I had the additional challenge of guiding 2 new graduate program directors (GPDs) for our MSc and PhD programs who’d never gone through the administrative side of course scheduling, admissions process, or budget allocation before. What’s more, is that 3 weeks prior to the university’s closure, my long-time colleague had resigned, so I was running our graduate program on my own.  When the pandemic became a Montreal reality, my life saw the addition of stay-at-home-mom, and homeschooling duties to what is a chaotic season for graduate program coordinators. As a single mother of 2 young children, and the Vice President of MUNACA, I am used to juggling a lot, but stay-at-home parent and teacher was never part of the plan, much less in addition to the plan.  For the first few weeks, I worked from home like most of you. My days were incredibly long; awake at 5am, putting in a few hours of Graduate Program work before the kids woke up. Then I’d launch into the breakfast routine, homeschooling 2 kids, in 2 different grades, in 2 languages, lunch time, get outside, do household chores, make dinner, and after the kids were in bed, I’d put in several more hours of work, responding to questions from applicants, students, my GPDs, and the Admissions Committee, generally going to bed around 1am. I ensured our Fall 2020 applicants were processed (yes, even the late ones!) and that my Admissions Committee was well-prepared to make their final decisions. Then I crashed. Over the past few months we have all experienced days / weeks that are better / worse than others. A few weeks into lockdown, my kids finally understood the gravity (and likely duration) of our unfolding situation. They were cooped up, bored, sick of each other, sick of me, missing their friends, their social activities, and routine... They were exhausted. I was physically drained, and mentally and emotionally unavailable after the unsustainable work schedule. This had a huge impact on my kids’ (my) overall well-being. We live in one of the island’s ‘hot spots’ and during our walks we’d see the signs posted at the entrances of our local grocer, bank, pharmacy, post office about how many employees working on site had tested positive. Friends working in long term care homes had tested positive. People we know had passed away. My kids were terrified, clingy, emotional, and had a lot of hard questions for which I didn’t have any answers…. Juggling all these unexpected new responsibilities, along with existing challenges, while keeping extremely long hours looking after everyone’s basic needs (Keep the home germ free! Get exercise! Healthy meals! Do homework! Stay positive!), and still being a good (i.e., conscious) parent for them was not sustainable, so I finally opted for the Paid Parental Leave McGill was offering for those at home with young children. Now, my days are still extremely busy—I am doing the work of 6 full-time elementary school teachers, 2 personal tutors, in-house AV/IT tech, line cook, maid, HazMat team, entertainment director, therapist, and ‘Mom’. But at least I am getting some sleep! In the first week of the university closure, one of the very wise research assistants (RAs) in our Department said to me: ‘We are all in this together. Not equally, but together...’, and I think about that statement often as I learn about everyone’s unique situation in this uncertain time. 

We welcome your own stories! If you would like your story to be featured in an upcoming newsletter, please fill out the following webform: https://forms.gle/6PrNVVVgWHCm2dCNA and we will follow up with you.

Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill

The Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) was accredited in 1993 to represent Teaching Assistants at McGill, making us the oldest TA Union in the province. Invigilators joined AGSEM in 2010 and Course Lecturers in 2011. Course lecturers have since separated into the McGill Course Lecturers and Instructors Union (MCLIU).

Email: mail@agsem-aeedem.ca

Phone: 514-398-2582

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