McMaster University will continue to host undergraduate academic activities remotely for the Spring/Summer/Intersession term with only a few exceptions for courses that need student access to specialized equipment.

Action plan to follow review of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior Department

An external review of the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior initiated in response to sexual harassment and violence allegations has identified systemic and cultural issues that will be now be addressed to safeguard students, faculty and staff.

The review, initiated by President David Farrar and conducted by the Canadian law firm of Rubin Thomlinson, interviewed and surveyed 149 faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students and alumni. Key recommendations based on the review include:
  • Training for faculty and staff with a trauma-informed approach to be undertaken early in 2021.
  • Training for students on sexual harassment and the resources and supports available.
  • Working with the PNB Chair to identify Department members to work with the Dean’s Office to recommend limits and restrictions on alcohol consumption at Department social events and gatherings. This group will also plan ways to educate stakeholders about existing University policies and codes of conduct.
  • Additional equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) expertise from outside the Department will be made available to help ensure that any future concerns are dealt with expeditiously and appropriately.
  • Increased Department oversight and accountability, as recommended, particularly with regard to EDI-related issues. This requires immediate and comprehensive discussion between the Department and University leadership and will include shared accountability for addressing the review recommendations.
  • A renewed commitment to transparency with participants of the review, as well as a commitment to helping the Department build on its research and teaching strengths.
While the Department review is now complete, investigations into specific allegations under McMaster’s Sexual Violence and Discrimination and Harassment policies are ongoing.

“I would like to thank everyone who participated in the review and were candid about their experiences both positive and negative," Dean Maureen MacDonald said in the summary report. "This was not an easy process for anyone involved but the review provides a fresh starting point and I hope that everyone embraces that opportunity.”

Task Force Tables Virtual Learning Recommendations

Helping instructors improve virtual course content, directing instructors to use Avenue to Learn as a course hub, reducing the number of electronic learning platforms and creating more ways for students to interact with each other during class were among the 21 recommendations put forward by McMaster's Virtual Learning Task Force.
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Two recommendations - delaying the start of winter classes by one week and having the McMaster Okanagan Charter Group address mental health issues related to online learning and the ongoing pandemic - have already been adopted by the University.

"The fall term has been a whole new experience for instructors and students," said Provost Susan Tighe in announcing the task force. The task force was struck following the decision to move the winter 2021 term online. It's important that we take the time to identify concerns, find solutions to any problems and share information about best practices that we can use in the 2021 winter term."

The task force drew on the experiences of its 31 members from across campus, including Krista Madsen and Greg Atkinson from the Faculty of Science. The task force also incorporated the findings of several surveys, including Equity and Inclusion Office’s Winter 2020 Student Educational Experience Survey, the MacPherson Institute’s Fall 2020 Experience Survey and the Office of Community Engagement’s Fall 2020 Community Engaged Learning Survey.

"We recognize that the McMaster community's transition to the online teaching, learning and work environment occurred quickly and has not been without its challenges," wrote the task force in its report. "With the passage of time and the approach of the winter season, we are especially mindful of the mental health and well-being of our colleagues and students. These unprecedented times have pushed the Task Force to rethink what McMaster's commitment to academic excellence means by developing recommendations intended to alleviate students, faculty and staff feeling overwhelmed and provide opportunities to start the winter semester refreshed and prepared together."

The task force recommended that discussions regarding virtual learning continue in 2021 through the University’s Teaching and Learning Advisory Group which would include technology and pedagogical experts, instructors, and students.

The MacPherson Institute held a Faculty of Science Town Hall on Nov. 19 to share results from the Fall Experience Survey of students and faculty. The town hall also included Department and School-specific breakout rooms to discuss the results and share teaching and learning plans for the winter term. Among the key recommendations put forward by faculty and staff were:
  • Permission to reduce content coverage, assessments
  • Ensure that sessions are being concluded on time
  • Streamlining student communications and platform use
  • Balance asynchronous and synchronous delivery
  • Increasing communication within Departments
  • Continue to record sessions and make them readily available

Changing How We Work Remotely In Science

Workload and wellbeing best practices recommended by McMaster's President, Provost and Vice Presidents are being adopted in the Faculty of Science.

Working on laptop"The shift to working remotely has had a significant impact on our campus community," wrote the University's executive leadership team. ."It has created challenges and difficult circumstances for many. Care for dependents, the demanding virtual environment and the general uncertainty that surrounds the pandemic all play a role in the workplace now that the lines between work and home have been blurred. Leaders across faculties and departments have an opportunity to ease the pressure and angst felt by many employees and improve the overall wellbeing of the McMaster community."

Dean Maureen MacDonald encourages faculty members and staff to adopt the following best practices to help ease workloads and stress:

  • Book meetings for 20 or 50 minutes instead of 30 and 60 minutes to give everyone some time to step away from screens between meetings.
  • Set an agenda for every meeting with designated times for each topic so meetings end on time.
  • When sending non-urgent emails on nights and weekends, use the delayed delivery function in Outlook so there's no expectation to immediately reply to emails sent outside of regular working hours.
Prioritization and Workload:
  • Work with colleagues to decide what work is urgent and what work can be deferred.
  • Distinguish between must-do and nice-to-do assignments and projects.
  • Use Microsoft Teams or other systems to help manage workflow and reduce the need for meetings.
Build a supportive environment across our Faculty of Science:
  • Initiate and join conversations that demonstrate support, comfort and build trust with colleagues.
  • Remain active. Encourage physical activity and share information on online fitness activities developed by Athletics and Recreation

Watch the 10 Rules for Building an Antiracist Lab Event

Antiracism Lab zoom picBuilding an antiracist lab doesn't require more committees, focus groups or surveys. The work can begin today. Leaders have a responsibility to take action. And simple, concrete steps can and must be made toward addressing individual, institutional and systemic racism.

These were among the key takeaways from a virtual conversation Nov. 24 with Dr. Asmeret Asefaw Berhe and Dr. Bala Chaudhary, researchers and authors of 10 Simple Rules for Building an Antiracist Lab. A closed-caption video recording of the 90-minute webinar is available online.

In her closing remarks, Dean Maureen MacDonald called on leaders within the Faculty of Science to initiate important conversations that will lead to equity, diversity, inclusion and antiracism strategies. "The onus for starting these important conversations shouldn't fall on our graduate or undergraduate students. As leaders, it's important that we be the ones to initiate these conversations and act on what we hear."

The webinar was presented by the Faculty of Science, the McMaster Science Society and the McMaster Science Graduate Student Association. MSS President Nicole Wong and SciGSA President Rhea Desai joined Maureen and Juliet Daniel, Acting Associate Dean Research & External Relations, in talking with Asmeret and Bala.

A second event on guidelines for preventing harassment during fieldwork is planned for the winter term with Amelia-Juliette Demery and Monique Pipkin, Ph.D. candidates with Cornell University's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
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