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PGSS Council discusses McGill’s plans for in-person learning in Winter 2021

At the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Council virtual council meeting on Nov. 4, councillors approved a motion to oppose new changes to the Graduate Mobility Award (GMA) and discussed McGill’s recently announced plans to move some classes in the Faculty of Science to in person for the Winter 2021 semester.

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government has restricted university-related travel, narrowing the GMA eligibility requirements. Before the pandemic, the GMA students who received the award would pursue research abroad, often allowing international students to do research in their home countries. The recent GMA limitations have suspended international travel for research, leaving some international students with setbacks in pursuit of their studies.

University Affairs Commissioner and Ph.D student in Communication Studies Kristi Kouchakji pointed to the miscommunications between McGill and the Quebec government and explained that the new motion will attempt to provide more clarity. 

“This motion for me really is about making sure that going forward, for students who won’t be able to travel before April 2022, that McGill is using its platform and using the position that it has with the Quebec government to advocate for a more inclusive understanding of what it is to do graduate research in Quebec,” Kouchakji said.

After some discussion, the councillors unanimously approved the motion.

Next on the agenda was an announcement from the Biology Graduate Student Association (BGSA) concerning McGill’s plans to roll out some in-person, on-campus teaching activities starting in January 2021. An email sent on Oct. 30 to the Department of Biology asked the department chairs to submit a list of teachables by the first week of November. Shannon Dunphy, president of the BGSA, explained her opposition to McGill’s proposed plans regarding in-person classes for the Winter 2021 semester. 

“We’ve recently written a statement in opposition to increase presence of in-person classes for January 2021,” Dunphy said. “[The statement is] primarily focussing on Faculty of Science BGSAs [….] TAs and grad students have not been consulted on this issue, and so we’ve written a statement and we’d like to invite other BGSAs to co-sign it.”

Dunphy expressed that McGill’s failure to consult TAs and graduate students was a significant issue, because TAs will be susceptible to all the health risks associated with being present on campus. 

“They’re also not requiring undergraduate students to wear masks on campus in classrooms either,” Dunphy said.

During the discussion period, Ana Moga, Ph.D candidate in the School of Physical & Occupational Therapy and member of the Graduate Rehabilitation Science Society, questioned whether students are able to reap the same educational outcomes from remote learning.

Dunphy explained that although certain courses benefit from having an in-person format, McGill’s statement for in-person classes should be reconsidered because it includes in-person classes for courses that can remain in an online format. 

Moment of the meeting

At the beginning of the meeting, Council Speaker Adrienne Tessier noted that there was a palpable sense of stress in the air. Despite this, Tessier still found a moment to laugh at the end of the meeting, entertaining a motion for adjournment that was met with silence. She amicably joked, “I was about to say I’m flattered that no one wants to leave.”

Sound bite

“Dialogue is very similar to Keep.meSAFE that we have except for instead of mental health services, which is what Keep.meSAFE is for, Dialogue is for physical health [….] The cost of the plan is $4.25 per student per month […] which obviously if you compare it to how much a student would pay if they go to a clinic it’s still cheaper than a single visit [….] It can be fully opt-outable.”

—Dakota Rogers, Member Services Officer, outlining the initial stages of potentially implementing a new service called “Dialogue.”

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