By Neale McDevitt
Wednesday, Senate approved revisions to McGill’s Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law as tabled by Lydia White, Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures and Equity). The amendments included revisions to increase clarity, changes relating to assessors, recommendations relating to the tracking of complaints and how ‘repeat offences’ are to be dealt with, and the addition of a section on raising awareness within the McGill community on issues of harassment and discrimination. The amended Policy now goes to Board of Governors for approval.
White told Senate that one of the main objectives of the working group mandated to review the Policy, was to make it more user friendly. “In the original version [of the Policy] assessors, complainants and respondents all complained that it was quite hard to understand what exactly the procedures are and in what order,” White said.
The revised document details the entire process from the initiation of a complaint and the attempt to reach an informal resolution under the guidance of one of the University’s eight assessors, through the ensuing investigation (should no such resolution be forthcoming) and submission of a written report by the assessor, to the formal resolution, including possible disciplinary action. White also pointed to the Policy webpage that has, among other elements, a flowchart that presents the procedure in a more visual format.
Another point for clarification was the Policy’s scope. “[In some instances, we have tried] to make things explicit that were only implicit before,” said White in her presentation. “For example, we now spell out that there are certain members of the University in certain capacities who will not fall under the Policy.”
White said that the Policy does not apply to the internal affairs of corporations associated with McGill but legally independent from it, such as student societies (PGSS, SSMU, student faculty associations, etc.) or staff unions and associations (AGSEM, AMURE, AMUSE, MAUT, MUNACA, MUNASA, SEU, etc. “Most of the unions and many of the student associations have their own harassment policies because they are required to by law,” said White, noting that in such cases, these independent bodies will police themselves. “There are some cases where the Provost cannot intervene because it is the legal business of an association.”
Amendments were also made to sections regarding assessors. Currently, the University has eight assessors who receive complaints, investigate them and submit written reports to the Provost for each case. The revised policy states that regular training is mandatory for assessors, as is periodic assessment of their performance. “It is a difficult job and it turns out that not everyone is suitable for doing it,” White said.
But the Policy doesn’t focus strictly on process, and the proposed amendments would put added emphasis on its educational component as well. “[The working group] spent a lot of time discussing the fact that the Policy is not just a set of procedures to deal with complaints, it also has a major objective of trying to raise awareness about harassment and discrimination,” said White.
The revised document outlines possible strategies to help sensitize the McGill community to issues of harassment and discrimination and to let people know that McGill has, in fact, an official Policy and procedures to deal with such complaints. These strategies include further support of the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) office; maintaining and developing the Policy webpage; and developing a communication and education plan, online courses and regular information and training sessions for McGill employees.
The revised Policy also recommends fostering collaborating with units engaged in related areas (e.g. Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, Office of the Ombudsperson, Office of the Dean of Students, Student Services, Legal Services) to make available resources better known.
Finally, White said that, on top of the recommended revisions to the Policy, the working group was asking for Senate’s approval to continue its deliberations concerning more general matters related to the Policy, including possible improvements relating to its implementation. “The working group felt that there were quite a number of issues that we would like to pursue,” said White. “Most to do with general issues general objectives not requiring changes to the policy necessarily but just further discussion.”
To read the revised Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law, go here.