Task Force report, Diversity Survey findings presented at Senate

By McGill Reporter Staff

Members of the Principal’s Task Force on Diversity, Excellence and Community Engagement were impressed by the extraordinary number of community initiatives under way at academic and other units across McGill – but the University needs to do a better job of spreading the word about these programs and helping to scale them up.

That’s one of the significant findings to emerge from the Task Force, whose recommendations are being presented for discussion at Town Hall meetings this month, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum told Senate at its meeting Feb. 16.

The Task Force, launched in fall 2009, quickly embraced the view that it didn’t want its work to lead to an affirmative-action program, Munroe-Blum said.  Still, there were concerns early on that efforts to promote diversity at the University might negatively impact processes both for recruiting faculty and students and for

shaping curricula.

The experiences of other research-intensive universities however, showed those fears to be unfounded, she said.  As a result, the Task Force’s draft report presents diversity and excellence not as contradictory objectives, but as complementary attributes.

On a related note, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson summarized data from a Student Diversity Survey of more than 2,000 participants conducted in fall 2009. Some of the findings:

• As a whole, McGill undergraduates enjoy socio-economic advantages relative to students at other Canadian universities.  Some 76 per cent of McGill students have at least one parent with a university degree, compared with 44 per cent for university students across Canada.  As well, proportionally fewer McGill students carry debt, and those who are indebted carry less debt.

• When asked about the languages they first learned and still use, 76 per cent of respondents indicated English, 44 per cent French, and 27 per cent another language; these figures exceed 100 per cent, because many students selected more than one language, and many appear to have been multilingual since childhood. While 92 per cent of respondents said they speak English with friends and relatives, 49 per cent reported French, and 26 per cent a third language, indicating McGill students commonly function in more than one language in their daily lives.

• While most students reported not having experienced any discrimination whatsoever by students (61 per cent) or by McGill employees (70 per cent), about seven per cent reported relatively high levels of discrimination by individuals in one or the other group. An extrapolation of seven per cent to the target population of 30,586 students suggests that more than 1,800 students would report experiencing this level of discrimination, Mendelson noted. Nor should McGill dismiss those who reported experiencing discrimination “very little” or “somewhat,” he cautioned. “Ideally, McGill should be a no-discrimination zone,“ he said.

“Our goal must be to enhance access and support for qualified students and to make McGill a welcoming environment where all students can feel included in the community.”