MONTRÉAL, May 2, 2022 - The McGill Communities Council (MCC), a committee of unions and associations representing thousands of employees (academic, managerial, unionized) and students (graduate and undergraduate) at McGill convened a hybrid Town Hall of all the memberships on April 26th, 2022 to discuss challenges faced and lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic. The meeting focused on how the pandemic affected the McGill community, specifically union and association concerns, and the path forward as a university community. Three key areas for future action and cooperation were identified: pedagogy, governance, and health & safety. However, one thing we learned was that we had many issues in common.
The council meeting brought forward issues of health & safety and working conditions of McGill employees during the pandemic. These included: no option to work remotely for some employees, reluctance to implement a vaccine mandate by the administration, and the inability of the administration to distribute N-95 masks in the latter half of the pandemic.
McGill didn't even notify the union that there was a covid outbreak in a workplace in some cases. The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was set with the task of quickly making Covid-19 related administrative decisions but was fairly insular with no representation from unions, associations or student associations where their attitude was contradictory to appropriate communications and collaboration.
The EOC informed the community of Covid-19 related decisions instead of consulting the community to make these decisions which might have mitigated some of the resultant fall-out.
Pedagogical issues also were highly important. Although online learning provided many benefits to the McGill community, it is important to acknowledge some pedagogical outcomes were negatively affected using an online format. This included: higher rates of student absenteeism and academic integrity issues with online assessments. In addition, the training provided to Course Lecturers & Instructors to navigate online teaching and grading could have been better. We now know that there are many types of instructors in the university, for example, professors, course Lecturers and teaching assistants who need more appropriate financial support to effectively deliver online classes from home.
The emotional toll and fatigue associated with online teaching and learning, needs to be acknowledged as we transition back to a fully in-person semester in Fall 2022.
We also know that the Office of Students with Disabilities (OSD) needs to be strengthened. The OSD let the students down in multiple ways, in particular by not being able to respond to requests in a timely manner. At the “Wellness Hub”, student calls are put on hold from the moment it opens, sometimes for hours, and are then told that there are no further available spots.
It is incumbent on Senior Administration to review the support they provided to administrative staff throughout the pandemic. When administrative staff were mandated to work from home, adequate financial resources were lacking to provide the necessary equipment to carry out their jobs remotely. Their case by case management was to say the least onerous and in many cases unnecessary.There was a hiring freeze, which has still not been lifted. This resulted in employees taking on additional responsibilities that led to burnout and greater departures. The University needs to be mindful that sending out email updates to the community does not supersede caring for the mental and emotional well-being of its employees. It involves listening and being willing to accommodate when necessary.
The MCC also deliberated upon governance issues brought forward with the pandemic. An August 29th, 2021 memo sent to Chairs and Departmental Heads by the Provost Office asking for the names of professors unwilling to work in-person demonstrates that the administration is not committed to its principle of collegial governance.
It is important that the University is not run solely as a business, and that highly educated and knowledgeable faculties, unions and associations have a strong voice in governance in the University. It is noteworthy that the senior administration ignored advice from the Faculty of Law concerning the implementation of a proper vaccine mandate. Also their patronizing attitude towards all groups of employees has placed a pall on labour relations at McGill.
As the McGill community emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, we want to move forward together in addressing health & safety, pedagogical, and governance issues in the University. Three areas identified by the Council are creating long-term thinking on the future of pedagogy in the University, adapting to the new reality of hybrid learning & work and how it can be adapted to the traditional in-person curriculum, and including faculty experts in the decision making process of the administration.
McGill Communities Council
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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.