Over 60 McGill staffers gathered Thursday afternoon to brainstorm budget-friendly measures at the Provost’s Administrative Task Force on Dealing with Economic Uncertainty’s first open-forum Town Hall.
The Town Hall was the first of four hosted by the recently formed task force, and provided an open forum at which to publicly address the economic challenges facing McGill in the current recession. Principal Heather Munroe-Blum and Provost Anthony Masi, who presided over the meeting, emphasized that the University can maintain McGill’s academic excellence if costs are cut carefully.
“Not a day goes by when you don’t see the sea change around us,” Munroe-Blum said. “We are not immune…and we cannot be ignorant.”
Following the Principal’s and Provost’s statements, the meeting adopted an open-forum format, where audience members suggested cost-cutting strategies.
Several faculty members proposed streamlining administrative processes by cutting outdated office relocation procedures and addressing informational redundancies. Staffers also suggested increased investment in distance learning, E-lectures, and summer terms as new sources of revenue.
Among the brainstorming session’s more novel products were proposals to invest in university infrastructure in Iraq and to offer a cash prize to whichever community member could develop the most cost-efficient measures.
Increasing individual responsibility for energy costs seemed to be the greatest source of potential savings. Following comments on wasteful electricity and paper usage, Director of Media Relations Doug Sweet proposed informing community members of the micro-costs of their actions by, for example, tacking stickers with the exact cost of leaving lights on overnight next to light switches.
Vaughan Dowie of the Public Affairs Office also emphasized the need to increase budgetary responsibility among staff members.
“People should understand the costs of the decisions they make,” said Dowie.
Masi and Munroe-Blum assuaged concerns about the administration’s economic priorities, reassuring those present that areas like staff development and library maintenance were considered fruitful investments, not excess costs. Munroe-Blum added that the task force bases its decisions on the most pessimistic economic forecasts in order to develop long-term measures to protect McGill
Masi repeatedly assured members that deep, across-the-board cuts were not an option. The meeting was not designed to reach any firm conclusions, but all questions and comments were recorded so that the task force could revisit and investigate the suggestions made.
SSMU VP University Affairs Nadya Wilkinson, the undergraduate representative on the Task Force, stressed that the task force has great potential but is still in its infant stages.
“It’s still quite young,” said Wilkinson. “You’ve got a whole bunch of people who have never had to deal with the entire University’s finances, and there’s a pretty steep learning curve.”
Following three more Town Halls – one today at noon in the Education Building and two on the first school day back from reading week – Munroe-Blum will make preliminary budgetary recommendations to the Board of Governors in March and send an open letter to the McGill community in April with the task force’s preliminary conclusions. The task force will continue meeting until November, and deliver its final report in January 2010.