by Eric Smith
At its April 16 meeting, Senate discussed proposed changes to regulations relating to disciplinary procedures for academic staff.
Prior to discussion of the new regulations, Professor Pat Farrell introduced a motion to extend Senate's congratulations to Vice-Principal (Planning and Resources) François Tavenas on his appointment to the rectorship of Université Laval. It was approved unanimously.
Professor Sam Noumoff then asked about a memorandum circulated by McGill Security following a series of break-ins last month. The memo called on members of the McGill community to report suspicious activity by members of a specific ethnic group. Noumoff questioned "the ability of the largely white community to distinguish 'a black male' from 'a lurking black male,'" as had been described in the memo.
Principal Bernard Shapiro read into the record an apology from Director of Security and Parking Steve Paquin. He also read his own memorandum stating the initial message was "clearly offensive to the University as a whole." In a supplemental question, Noumoff asked whether the original memorandum had been seen or approved by any other member of the administration. Shapiro replied that it had not.
Give and take
Senate began discussion on the new disciplinary procedures for academic staff by moving into Committee of the Whole, chaired by Farrell. Vice-Principal Chan introduced the document, which he said was the result of a lot of "give and take."
He described the principles behind the new regulations, which channel all disciplinary cases into a common procedure. Under the proposed rules, a peer hearing would be available for all disciplinary action except dismissal, which goes directly to arbitration.
Professor Ted Meighen said the new regulations represented a "fair and honest compromise." He offered as an example the case of the late Justine Sergent. Under the current system, because Sergent's reprimand came from the principal's office, "her only recourse was arbitration and incurring well over $20,000 in legal costs." Under the proposed regulations, according to Meighen, "It now doesn't make a difference whether the principal or a dean initiates disciplinary procedures."
Student senator Anna Kruszinski expressed concern that "there is a possibility in the case of harassment that a complainant will be called as a witness to the tribunal." She added, "People will not bring forward cases of sexual harrassment for fear they may have to appear before a tribunal."
Faith and trust
Vice Principal (Research) Pierre Bélanger said, "The burden of carrying the case falls on the principal." So although it is conceivable that a complainant may be called to testify, a hearing only goes ahead after "the principal has made a preliminary finding and leans towards disciplinary action."
Senator Malcolm Baines added, "Legal processes only work if you have a fundamental faith in the system." The new procedures imply a trust in the principal "to present the case in a fair, impartial and legally defensible manner."
Other concerns raised addressed the confidentiality of the proposed hearings. Student senator Richard Lafferty asked whether keeping the proceedings confidential would "give people a reason to wonder what's going on inside that room."
He proposed that an observer have access to the hearing. Professor Bruce Shore said he had no objection to an observer "because the observer is bound to the same secrecy as everyone else."
Moving out of Committee of the Whole, Senate was asked if there were any objections to the stated principles and major changes in the new regulations. None were raised. Resuming the chair, Principal Shapiro then went through the complete document to allow senators to propose amendments to specific paragraphs.
Student senator Don McGowan proposed that when a staff member receives a dean's letter of reprimand, the complainant receive a copy. Associate Dean of Student Affairs Nicholas De Takacsy argued that possible disciplinary action was not taken to resolve conflicts but rather "by the University vis-à-vis members of the student body, academic and non-academic staff." MacGowan withdrew his amendment.
Life and death
There was some discussion on how the procedures should be applied in the case of an emergency situation. The proposed regulations stated, "Where the staff member is judged to be a serious threat to the security of the University or the safety of its community, the staff member shall immediately be suspended from the University and its premises pending the completion of disciplinary procedures and arbitration."
Noumoff asked who had the authority to judge someone a serious threat. Chan answered that such authority rested with the principal.
De Takacsy suggested that it be extended to deans. Dean Alan Shaver agreed, arguing that in an emergency situation deans could "take steps that can be reviewed at a later date, rather than sitting on one hand waiting for the principal."
Shore argued that in the case of a security emergency, removal from campus would become a matter for security services and the police and that removal was not the same as a suspension. "A suspension says 'You no longer work here,' and that should be up to the principal."
Said Shaver, "It's hard to convey the intensity of these emergency situations. It would look lame if a dean knew about such a situation and responded by initiating steps."
De Takacsy suggested replacing "suspended" with "excluded" in the motion. Noumoff agreed and proposed adding "by the principal or his or her delegates" to the motion after an assurance from Principal Shapiro that he would immediately delegate to all deans the right to exclude someone from campus. The amendment was approved.
Odds and ends
Students' Society president Chris Carter proposed that a section be added to the regulations mandating sensitivity training for all members of the disciplinary hearing committee. After some debate about the usefulness of such training, the amendment carried.
Kruszinski proposed an amendment stating that "the original complainant or a delegate thereof has the right to observe the hearing."
De Takacsy warned that the rules of confidentiality meant that a delegate for the complainant could not report back to him or her on the proceedings. The amendment was approved.
Carter proposed an amendment to inform the complainant of a disciplinary decision by the principal. Because, under the new regulations, a letter of reprimand has a maximum life-span of five years, it was argued that its dissemination should be restricted. The amendment was defeated.
Professor Leanore Lieblein spoke in favour of the motion, saying, "Notwithstanding my objections to some parts of the regulations, it would be disastrous to go back to no protection whatsoever."
The new regulations were passed by a large majority of the Senate, with senators Kruszinski and Carter dissenting.