Last week, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum released a statement on the economic downturn and the effects it will have on the University. Her observations paint a grim picture: McGill is underfunded, and has been since long before the downturn; its endowment took a 20 per cent hit during the crisis; research revenues aren’t growing as projected; and donors are extending the time needed to pay out their commitments to Campaign McGill.
In order to meet the demands of this situation, Munroe-Blum proposes that the University take a careful look at its programs and expenditures, and work to “realize efficiencies wherever possible without lowering the quality of our academic programs.” To do this, the administration has created two task forces and arranged four Town Hall-style consultation sessions, where students, faculty, and staff can pose questions directly to Munroe-Blum and other top administrators. The first one took place last Thursday, and there will be another one at noon today in the Education Building.
We appreciate the administration’s honesty on the situation, and applaud what appears to be a genuine attempt to consult the community in determining how to effectively cut spending. We’re also glad that such a strong commitment is being made to protecting the integrity of McGill’s academic programs, and that draconian, across-the-board cuts are off the table – at least for now.
But actions speak louder than words. Just last week, news broke that former McGill Vice Principal Ann Dowsett Johnston received a severance package in 2007 of more than $300,000, after spending just 19 months at the University. McGill staff flooded the Town Hall, demanding to know why the school has filled eight administrative positions in the last three months while providing only static support for both non-academic staff and Teaching Assistants (TAs). Even the $100,000-plus salaries tied to those eight positions pale in comparison to the $507,000 paid to McGill Dean of Medicine and Vice-Principal (Health Affairs) Richard Levin. Not only is Levin the best-paid medical dean in the country, but his salary is double that of his predecessors.
Munroe-Blum has refused to apologize for what we feel is an absurd payout, and has deemed Johnston’s exit unfortunate but necessary, considering her contractual obligations. However, the University should formulate contracts to prevent this from happening – if people ditch their responsibilities early, they shouldn’t be offered a golden parachute. The Principal has also stated the need to offer nationally and internationally competitive salaries to seek out qualified administrators. But if the administration chooses to recruit from around the world to fill its own ranks, it must also consider the range of pay available across the country for its non-academic workers, who have been without a contract since last year. McGill has insisted that its offers to both academic and non-academic workers are on par with rates in Quebec, but it showcases a double-standard by only looking at these wages in a provincial context. Similarly, McGill’s TAs may be the best-paid TAs in Quebec, but their wages fall below TAs at universities across the country.
No matter what happens in the dispute, the administration eventually must decide where to make cuts, and how to make them. In the mean time, they should advertise various ways students can become involved in shaping the University’s fiscally responsible future. For instance, students can use the Sustainability Office to develop energy-saving pilot projects – continuing the success of a recent project that cut lighting costs by 59 per cent in the James Administration building and will pay for itself in 18 months – and send in cost-cutting strategies to this year’s Red Tape contest. However, when McGill does make cuts, we hope that they’ll hold true to their word and maintain the quality of academic programs, and listen to the feedback they receive from the community over the next few weeks.