On February 27, the McGill Board of Governors (BoG) met for the first time this semester. Highlights of the open session included discussion of the implications of the federal and provincial budgets and the approval of the new Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) lease.
The BoG, McGill’s highest governing body, is led by Principal Suzanne Fortier and Chair Stuart “Kip” Cobbett, with the board comprised of McGill alumni and members of the Montreal community. It also has two student representatives, Katie Larson, SSMU President, and Jonathan Mooney, Secretary-General of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS).
The highlight of the meeting was the renewal of the lease with SSMU. Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens outlined the ten-year lease, noting a $5,000 yearly increase in rent and a negotiated agreement to share energy costs. “I personally think it is a good lease for both parties,” said Dyens.
Mooney questioned how the administration determines “what is fair” for this type of lease without market rates. Dyens explained that the law requires the University to provide student groups with “a space and furniture,” which is met by the provision of space for the SSMU executive in the Brown building. For the rest, “they need to participate in the costs of the building.”
The BoG approved the lease, finalizing years of work from multiple SSMU executives.
Fortier also spoke during the meeting, commenting that the federal budget, released on February 11, was a “very good budget for the university sector,” noting an investment of $1.5 billion over the next ten years and a focus on creating internship opportunities for students.
Fortier said that the provincial government intends to look at the tuition policy for out-of-province students, but has not released any further details. According to Fortier, the provincial government has been looking at reducing its investment in, and grants for, out-of-province students. 25 per cent of McGill students are classified as out-of-province.
Fortier then brought forward the conclusions and outcomes of McGill’s Strategic Reframing Initiative (SRI). Launched in 2010, the program involved the launch of 35 improvement projects.
According to Fortier, the program may have been overly ambitious with 35 projects. Due to unforeseen budgetary constraints, not all projects were completed.
Presenting the report of the Building and Property Committee, committee chair Peter Coughlin emphasized the need to change the way McGill approves major projects, stating that the current method allows projects to be approved before they can be costed properly.
The presentation of the Finance Committee’s report revealed that the University is tracking toward a $10 million deficit, which is what had been previously budgeted.
Provost Anthony Masi presented the committee’s second budget planning report for 2014-15. He noted that difficulties interpreting the provincial budget are making predictions difficult.
According to Masi, proposed provincial investment of $20.3 million is essentially a reinstatement of the $19.3 million in cuts from last year, but with four conditions: that the money goes toward improving the quality of undergraduate teaching, providing outreach to communities underrepresented at the university, raising at least $6 million in philanthropy, and that $3 million is contingent on “balanc[ing] our books.”
Masi maintained that McGill performs well in spite of financial difficulties. “We’re punching above our weight in terms of resources, but we can only do so for so long.”
The meeting closed with a presentation from Mohammed Ashour, Gabriel Mott, and Jesse Pearlstein, members of the team of McGill students who won the $1 million Hult Prize last September. The team is currently interested in doing research to validate the health outcomes of consuming insects, and is working with the McGill Faculty of Medicine to build a study.
The next BoG meeting will take place on April 2.