Software squabbles

KARL JAROSIEWICZ | On December 7, 1998, the executive committee of the Board of Governors approved a document entitled "Policy on Software Developed by McGill University Faculty, Academic Staff and Students."

At its last meeting, Senate learned that this new software policy had taken several years to write, and that consultation with the academic community had ceased sometime during 1996. Since then, the policy passed from Vice-Principal (Research) Pierre Bélanger's portfolio to Vice-Principal (Information Systems and Technology) Bruce Pennycook's bailiwick.

In the period between 1996 and the December 7 meeting of the board's executive committee, progress was made with respect to the policy, but apparently, no further consultation had taken place between the policy's authors and the McGill University Association of Teachers (MAUT).

During last week's meeting of Senate, Professor Sam Noumoff tried to persuade the members to express their disappointment with the way this policy was adopted.

"Whereas the executive committee of the Board of Governors adopted a software policy in the absence of consultation with and approval by Senate in violation of the spirit of collegial governance and the academic responsibility of Senate," read Noumoff's resolution, "Senate expresses its profound disappointment in the executive committee of the Board of Governors, and urges it to return to a policy which respects the tradition of seeking consultation with and approval by the Senate on issues within Senate's purview."

The resolution further noted that "the Vice-Principal (Research) readily stated that there was not an imminent crisis."

"These are troubling signs," said Noumoff. "Last year, the bookstore management contract was signed without Senate's approval; this time, the software policy is approved without consultation."

"I'm troubled by the wording of this resolution," answered Pennycook. "There may not have been 'an imminent crisis,' but there was certainly a pressing need for this policy. It required us to act… and was justifiable."

Pennycook noted that, four years ago, the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research had conducted the first consultation on the proposed software policy. However, he admitted that the consultation had not included the text of the approved document.

"A similar document [to the one approved] was distributed in August 1998," said Professor Myron Frankman. "But there was an important difference: textbooks in electronic formats were not discussed."

Steven Cohen, PGSS representative, recalled the bookstore management discussion last year.

"We were asked for our opinion on the contract. We then asked for more information because we didn't feel we had all the facts. We were later informed that the issue had been decided already. I don't like it when my opinion is sought and then ignored simply because it's not the opinion that's wanted."

"In hindsight, it could have been done better," admitted Bélanger about the software policy process.

"We're flogging a dead horse," said Dean of Law Stephen Toope. "I'm against this resolution, not because I don't think Senate should be consulted, but because of the language. This body wants to be consulted, but sending a snarky message to the board is the wrong way to go."

"I can bring this back to the board for discussion," said Principal Bernard Shapiro. "But we're not going to rescind the policy. We need something in place."

Senate approved the resolution.

On another subject, what started off as a piece of procedural housekeeping ended up seeming to many like a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

At issue was the University's adoption leave regulations for full-time staff. Currently, the parental leave policy affords 20 weeks of adoption leave to adoptive parents, while at the same time it denies paid leave beyond five days to natural fathers.

A complaint was filed with the Quebec Human Rights Commission against the University's parental leave policy, prompting McGill's Legal Services to recommend that the policy on adoption leave be struck down. Legal Services has, in effect, advised the Quebec Human Rights Commission that the clause will be removed.

Vice-Principal (Academic) Bill Chan stated that "discussions are currently underway with MAUT regarding a revised parental leave policy; however, the subsection needs to be removed."

He presented the text of a motion that has been presented to the Board of Governors:

"Be it resolved that subsection 2 of Chapter 3, section V, 'Adoption Leave Regulations and Policies for Academic Staff,' of the Handbook of Regulations and Policies for Academic Staff be deleted."

Senator Honora Shaugnessy objected to the rejection of the whole passage.

"It will put anyone who seeks adoption leave during this period out in the cold," she said. She petitioned Senate to add a phrase allowing adoptive parents to seek the same considerations as natural parents under the policy "until such time as there is a new policy on the matter."

Without much fuss, Senate voted in favour of this amendment. The matter will be presented to the board for its approval.