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Graduates criticize Leacock restructuring project

Graduate students expressed concerns about the People, Processes, and Partnerships (PPP) plan to restructure the administrative organization of Leacock Building at the Dec. 4 Council meeting of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS).

The project was introduced in Fall 2012, but has seen various revisions over the past year, with the latest version presented at AUS Council on Nov. 13. The restructuring aims to compensate for the loss of seven out of 48 Leacock support staff due to staff reductions from the voluntary retirement program and decreased funding from the Quebec government.

At the Dec. 4 meeting, PGSS members voted ‘yes’ to a motion that lays out plans to send a letter of concern to Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi, and to inform PGSS members of the PPP project to encourage them to speak up during the consultation process. Members had the opportunity voice their concerns about the PPP project to Manfredi, who was present at the beginning of the meeting to answer questions but left before voting took place.

“There is a worrying lack of evidence presented to stakeholders to suggest the viability of this plan, whether in terms of documented cost-savings, demonstrable efficiencies, or student, staff, and faculty satisfaction with such arrangements at universities comparable to McGill,” the motion reads.

The motion cited previous expressions of opposition to the plan. In November, the Art History and Communication Studies Graduate Student Association published a letter in the McGill Daily, condemning the plan for going forward despite negative feedback and suggesting that the plan would not be as cost-effective as promised.

“This letter that appeared in the McGill Daily was aimed at a plan that hasn’t been the plan since about March […] and we’ve been working closely with all of you since we abandoned that first idea,” said Manfredi, who explained the purpose of the PPP before answering questions.

However, according to English Graduate Student Association (EGSA) representative Amalia Slobogian, the current state of the plan is still a cause for concern.

“Before I came today, I surveyed EGSA—the support staff and as much of the faculty as I could […] about the new [restructuring plan] that Manfredi was speaking about, and they’re still all completely opposed to it,” Slobogian said. “The faculty and support staff I talked to said they have expressed complaints many times to the Dean of Arts, that nothing has been done, and that they haven’t achieved any feedback about their complaints.”

In addition, East Asian Studies (EAS) representative Allen Chen said students in his department were not properly consulted prior to the recent relocation of the EAS department from McTavish to 688 Sherbrooke in a move that Chen described as “disastrous.”

“On the part of the students in EAS, we were just told this is happening,” Chen said. “A lot was not communicated to us and we were not involved. To this date, nothing has been done to address our concerns.”

Manfredi said he is open to suggestions and invited students to write to him with their concerns, but acknowledged that the Leacock restructuring process may not always run smoothly.

“We try to address the concerns and make sure this happens with as little disruption as possible, but there will be disruption,” Manfredi said. “Losing seven out of 48 people is disruptive.”

Lorenzo Daieff, a member of the McGill Graduate Association of Political Science Students, asked how support staff reacted to the fact that 41 staff will be doing the same amount of work previously done by 48.

“Everyone has reservations or concerns whenever they think their jobs are going to change,” Manfredi said. “[Support staff] have been working together to figure out how they’re going to spread the work. If I asked them specifically if they think this is a great idea, my guess is that they’d say, ‘We can see some positives but we have some concerns.’ ”

PGSS Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney asked whether the money-saving plan is necessary now that the provincial government has announced the possibility of an eight percent increase in funding to the university.

“You have to discount the possibility of this happening,” Manfredi said. “Also, there are lots of demands on those dollars—hiring professors, provid[ing] appropriate wage increases for faculty members and support staff [….] [The restructuring plan] will give us something that can sustain external shocks.”


CFS protest and court proceeding finances

PGSS Financial Affairs Officer Erik Larson presented an update on the financial situation of PGSS’ ongoing attempt to withdraw from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS)—which involve a court case that has cost $50,000 in legal fees so far this year.

PGSS is currently in court proceedings in an effort to get CFS to recognize its 2010 vote to leave the national student federation. Larson said fees to finance the court case are withdrawn from the Special Project Fund, although the fund was initially intended for other projects.

“At the start of the budget for this year, we had hoped to do more projects aimed at making Thomson House more sustainable and more environmentally friendly, by updating windows and air conditioning, for instance,” Larson said. “Unfortunately, at the beginning of this fiscal year we had to change our legal team. This was completely unforeseen. That is where the majority of the Special Project Fund expenses have gone this year.”

Students from associations that belong to the federation—including PGSS, the Concordia Student Union, and Dawson College—protested outside the CFS Annual General Meeting in Ottawa on Nov. 23 to express dissatisfaction with the national organization and frustration with CFS’s refusal to recognize withdrawal from the federation.

“We said this litigious organization trying to trap people inside is a bad organization,” Mooney said. “We drew attention to the issue.”

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