Dean of graduate studies says university receives few complaints from graduate students
After finding that many of the consultations and complaints filed with Laval University’s student help centre, the university’s centre for the prevention and intervention of harassment, as well as the university ombudsman came from graduate students, the school’s graduate student association (AELIES) surveyed its members and released its findings in November 2017.
The results: 58 per cent of the graduate students surveyed said they had uncomfortable interactions with their master’s or doctorate supervisor “on a few occasions,” and 16 per cent of students surveyed said those situations happened “regularly.” In November, AELIES president Pierre Parent Sirois told Le Devoir he found the statistics “worrying.”
Concordia undergraduate students were recently asked questions regarding on-campus harassment and discrimination as part of the 2017 Concordia Student Union General Undergraduate Student Survey, which was presented to the CSU council on Oct. 11. However, a similar survey of its members has not been conducted by the Graduate Student Association, according to the association’s president, Srinivas Bathini. The GSA’s vice-president of academic and advocacy, Thufile Ariful Mohamed Sirajudeen, said the association would consider surveying its members.
According to the Le Devoir article, students and their supervisors at Laval University sign mentoring agreements (“ententes d’encadrement”) to prevent conflict or discomfort. AELIES’s survey revealed that, in 70 per cent of cases, the agreements had a positive impact on the relationship between the student and the supervisor, and on the progress of the work.
In an email to The Concordian, Paula Wood-Adams, Concordia’s dean of graduate studies, wrote that the university does not have the same type of contract, “as is the case with a good number of universities.” She added that Concordia has “clear guidelines explaining the responsibilities of the students, supervisors and their respective programs.” The guidelines, she said, were revised last year and are “clearly posted” on the university website.
The master’s and PhD supervision guidelines each state that, “while it is important to acknowledge that students are partners in the university enterprise, it is equally important to recognize their differential power status, especially as it relates to their supervisors.”
According to Wood-Adams, the School of Graduate Studies communicates the guidelines to new graduate students twice a year, in January and September.
The guidelines indicate that, if an issue arises between a student and supervisor and an informal resolution is “unsuccessful or inappropriate,” and the graduate program director determines that the student-supervisor relationship is “beyond repair,” the director “must make a recommendation to the dean of graduate studies to terminate the relationship.”
Wood-Adams added that the School of Graduate Studies only receives a few complaints every year through the office of the ombudsman or the School of Graduate Studies itself—two avenues students can use to come forward.
“Most issues are resolved following a meeting with the student where we provide advice on how they might clarify or resolve the situation,” Wood-Adams said. Students can also bring along an advocate from the GSA or student advocacy office, she explained.
Wood-Adams said consultations with the School of Graduate Studies remain confidential, “except in cases where they are alleging conduct that might be illegal.” The final option available to both students and supervisors is to terminate the supervision.
“I should emphasize these are very rare situations,” Wood-Adams wrote.
Photo by Alex Hutchins