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University Reform: McGill admins come from outside academia

Corporate managers in the admin detract from collegial governance structure

Recent appointments to McGill’s top administration from the private sector have brought the question of “professionalization” of the administration into focus.

SSMU VP University Affairs Adrian Angus explained that since being appointed Principal, Heather Munroe-Blum has assembled a team of Vice-Pincipals around her – known as the P7 or the Principal’s Seven – who act as her close advisors. Two of the VPs appointed in 2007 have come from corporate backgrounds outside McGill.

VP Public Affairs Michael Goldbloom is a McGill alumnus and former publisher of both The Toronto Star and The Montreal Gazette, and VP Administration & Finance François Roy, formerly a financial manager at Quebecor, Avenor, and Telemedia, was hired to dig McGill out of its $58-million deficit. Roy is the first VP Finance at McGill to have been appointed from outside the university community.

In an interview with The Daily earlier this month, Munroe-Blum defended the choices.

“I think it is fantastic that we have someone with business experience who is working with me and [Provost] Tony Masi on running an over a billion-dollar-a-year organization,” she said.

If students or faculty are concerned with hiring trends, they have little sway over decision-making. According to SSMU President Jake Itzkowitz, the administration hires a recruitment firm to compile lists of potential candidates from both inside and outside academia. An advisory committee then examines the candidates and makes a recommendation to the Principal – who is in no way bound by this advice.

If Munroe-Blum approves, the candidate is presented to the Board of Governors (BoG), the University’s highest governing body, which can then accept or reject the candidate. Senate, the highest academic governing body, has no control over the decision – and according to Angus, BoG rarely rejects the Principal’s choice.

“Essentially the Board just rubber stamps,” he said. “Theoretically, they can reject the Principal’s recommendation, but that hasn’t happened in the past 10 years.”

When Munroe-Blum described the hiring process to The Daily, she emphasized the “advisories and searches” that occur before hiring a new VP or Dean. She said that half of McGill’s VPs and Deans come from outside the University, and that most Deputy Provosts come from inside McGill.

“Far and away it’s balanced in academics – half from within and half from outside – both within James [Administration] and across the Deans,” she said. “I think it’s very healthy.”

Further, in a break from the past, no university administrators currently teach classes, and there has been less fluidity concerning university administrators returning to the faculty ranks.

Angus said that administrators often refer to a push to “professionalize” its directors.

Hire away

McGill’s system for appointing VPs in a closed process fits in with trends across Canada, where universities are turning to more corporate managerial models for their high-level administrations as opposed to the traditional collegiate model of shared governance.

While many see the streamlined process of the corporate model as essential for universities competing in the global marketplace, Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Executive Director James Turk expressed reservations.

“Other than the Catholic Church, no other institution has survived as well as universities,” Turk said. “This shows that there is something of value in the structure of shared governance.”

The old model of hiring, in which administrators, deans, and principals are appointed from within the university through a democratic process that involved the entire professional community of the university, is fast disappearing.

Turk said the process is being sacrificed in the name of expediency.

“Notions of efficiency often exclude student and faculty participation. Especially in university settings, efficiency is not the only value,” Turk added.

While in North America corporate management models can be found in nearly every major university, Oxford and Cambridge have fought to preserve a shared governance model, and, despite government pressures and financial difficulties, they have won. In 2006, Oxford’s governing body defeated a proposal that proposed modernizing reforms that would have completely changed the governance structure of the 800-year old institution.

The Guardian reported that the proposed changes would have ended self-governance and brought the university under the centralized control of business leaders and politicians outside the university community. Each college at Oxford is still governed independently today.

The management report

In September 2007, a report released by the Institute for Governance of Private and Public Organizations (IGOPP) – an elite task force of university administrators, of which Munroe-Blum is a member – argued for smaller, more centralized, and more exclusive governance.

The report calls for a new approach to selecting the top executive of a university, including “ensuring that both internal and external candidates are considered and that the search process is equally open to both,” and calls for a fully confidential hiring process.

The IGOPP report also calls for smaller boards, of which two-thirds of the membership is composed of “independents” sourced from outside the university community.

Turk noted that nation-wide, BoGs tend to be very strongly corporate.

“We need to remember that universities are governed, not managed,” he said. “Faculty aren’t employees and students are not customers.”

– with files from Kelly Ebbels and Jennifer Markowitz