Commentary | The University’s future is broader than tuition rates

Several articles in the September 9 issue of The Daily dealt with Principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s announcement of proposed tuition hikes. This piece is primarily a response to an article by Adrian Kaats (“Raising tuition, really?”, Commentary).

Kaats’s description of McGill’s educational environment just a decade ago certainly seems different from the one we have witnessed since 2007. However, the argument we wish to advance is that Kaats’s attribution of the changes made under this administration to Principal Munroe-Blum alone is facetious and shortsighted at best. While no democratically elected McGill body (we personally question the legitimacy of using the term democratic to describe any elected body at McGill) has come out in support of the plan, several groups undoubtedly stand to benefit from the “corporate” direction the University has recently taken and presumably will continue to take.

Kaats’s sweeping statement that this development has no popular support and has effectively pitted all of us who are not the principal against Munroe-Blum’s cabal is erroneous.

A few questions are up for debate: we need to decide what kind of institution McGill should be, and what sacrifices must be made in order to facilitate its transformation into the school we would like to see. At this moment, McGill is in limbo. Though a partially publicly funded institution, it bears a prestigious name, which is a large factor in drawing both international students and renowned professors to our learning community. Though the proposed tuition hikes will largely affect undergraduates who do not stand to immediately benefit from the programs it will fund, the name McGill has made for itself through groundbreaking research is reflected in every diploma the McGill insignia is stamped on, regardless of the quality of education that undergraduates – who largely have no part in the production of research – receive.

This isn’t to say that we personally agree with this state of affairs. Both of us would rather that McGill focused more on its undergraduate programs, which arguably are the best way to deepen and broaden the effects of higher education in our greater community, ultimately bridging the inequality gap both we and Kaats fear will stem from increased tuition. Ultimately, though, we have to be honest about what freezing tuition will do for our university’s ability to attract renowned scholars and produce respected results. Whether or not we want to admit it, though we might not benefit intellectually from the mildly cattle-like manner in which McGill handles its undergraduate students, the increased job prospects and further education opportunities garnered from its international reputation might just be a tradeoff that many McGill students are willing to accept (on a very short and stereotyped list, we are thinking about students in the faculties of law, medicine, management, and science, as well as anyone who owns a “Harvard: America’s McGill” t-shirt).

There exist rather obscure post-secondary institutions whose students and faculty quietly build their intellectual capacities. While the graduates may have to locate their alma mater on a map when applying for jobs, schools like Annapolis, Maryland’s St. John’s College do not compromise academic rigour in favour of prestige.

This problem is systemic and cannot be boiled down to the schemes of one member of the administration. If McGill wants to foster intimate, high quality, publicly funded undergraduate programs, it may have to step off the beaten path and refrain from participating in the prestige competition.

Nicole Durocher is U3 Religious Studies and Anthropology student, and Kurt Shaller is a U3 Political Science, Philosophy, and Economics student. You can write them at nicole.durocher@mail.mcgill.ca.


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