Entre Nous with Morton Mendelson, Deputy Provost, Student Life and Learning

Entre Nous with Morton Mendelson, Deputy Provost, Student Life and Learning McGill University

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McGill Reporter
August 24, 2006 - Volume 39 Number 01
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 39: 2006-2007 > August 24, 2006 > Entre Nous with Morton Mendelson


with Morton Mendelson, Deputy Provost, Student Life and Learning

 Morton Mendelson   Morton Mendelson   Morton Mendelson 

Morton Mendelson began his career at McGill almost thirty years ago, after completing a post-doctorate in the United States.
Owen Egan

A year of meetings and 160 submissions later, the Principal's Task Force on Student Life and Learning is slated to turn in its final report by the end of 2006. For psychology professor Morton Mendelson, Deputy Chair of the Task Force, the real work has just begun.

As McGill's first Deputy Provost, Student Life and Learning, a position created upon the recommendation of the task force, Mendelson will be responsible for steering the university's plans to enhance the student experience and to fully execute its mission as a student-centred, research-intensive university. With close to 30 years at McGill, most recently as Associate Provost, Academic Programs and Services, Mendelson feels more than up to the task.

Why did the task force recommend the creation of this new senior administrative position?

There was a sense that there wasn't someone in the university who was responsible and accountable for the issues related to student life and learning. There are lots of people at McGill who are dedicated to serving students and have their best interests at heart, but the current structure of the organization makes it difficult to have any formal relations between offices. If we're going to make any progress toward our goal of making McGill a more convivial environment for student learning, we need someone who is responsible for all these different areas.

What is the first order of business?

One of the short-term goals is to come up with the administrative structure that will handle this. I've been meeting the people who are responsible for student services, the residences, admissions and recruiting; and in September there's a retreat on student services with some of these same people, as well as the Dean of Students, Student Affairs, the faculties, and athletics.

Why were you chosen for this new role?

I was Associate Dean of Student Affairs and have a lot of experience. I've been working at the university for 29 years and think I'm well placed to gain the trust of the faculties and build the kind of consensus we need. It's clear that the goal of the task force is to help students achieve what all the faculties want to achieve, which is the best possible education. Educating students is the most important service we provide.

One of the three preliminary recommendations of the task force was to create a position responsible for student life and learning, which has been done. What about the other two, which revolve around advising and mentoring, and enhancing graduate funding and undergraduate financial aid?

The task force believes there should be a professional advisor available to each department. This would free up faculty to serve another function, which would be mentoring. The faculty members on the task force were very enthusiastic about this, and I think most faculty are interested in being engaged with students through their teaching, but also in other ways such as mentoring. I get this sense from having worked for so long at McGill and knowing many faculty members who are already mentoring volunteers in their labs by supervising independent research, having conversations with students outside of class about their career goals, and so on.

In terms of student aid and funding, one of our main priorities is raising more money for graduate students through donations, something all faculties are committed to, and accessing sources of funding and payouts more efficiently. We'll also review how we serve our students going on exchange abroad and how to better serve our international students.

These are all issues that will be discussed during the September retreat on student services.

How can the University enhance the student experience?

At the moment, we have a lot of red tape. Many of the dossiers affecting student life are divided among different officers. One idea might be to have a single point of contact for student services. What we want to avoid is a situation where we say to a student, "Sorry, that's not what we do here at this office. You need to go to another office across campus." The idea is not just to improve things at the margins, but to take a look at all of our strengths, and weaknesses and to re-evaluate how we serve our students.

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Morton Mendelson's first job

I worked in a camera store as a teenager, doing jobs like sweeping up at the beginning of the day and washing display cases. I also stood at the door doing quasi-security, making sure no customers left without having been served — or with stolen merchandise. I also helped with shipping and that sort of thing.

I didn't really do any selling because I didn't know much about cameras, although one of my successes was once persuading a customer to buy a small item, a lens filter. That gave me a lot of satisfaction because it was helping the core function of the store.