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University Reform: Principal clarifies administration-governance divide

At the March 5 meeting of Senate, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum publicly clarified her vision on the relationship between administration and governance at McGill.

In response to a question from SSMU VP University Affairs Adrian Angus, Munroe-Blum suggested that it was ultimately the administration’s responsibility to set strategic priorities for the University, and that the Board of Governors and Senate are responsible for “providing advice in relation to strategy.”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she said, McGill demonstrated an “avant-garde” approach to governance, but fell behind other universities in developing an academic administration “that would define strategic direction and actively manage the University’s functions.

“These matters – both the strategic direction and day-to-day management – fell to our governing bodies and resulted in the fusion of governance and administration that I inherited in 2003,” she said.

Munroe-Blum said the University had undertaken the restructuring efforts of the Board of Governors and Senate as a way of more explicitly defining administration and governance.

“More broadly, Senate serves as a forum for engagement with members of Senate as representatives of the community on the heart of our mission as a University…provid[ing] assistance and support to the senior administration in its management of the University, by acting as a sounding board and as a source of institutional memory,” she said.

In an interview after the Senate meeting, Angus said Munroe-Blum’s comments pointed to the increased corporatization of the University structure.

“University governance is always premised on the idea of collegiality. ‘Advice’ is not strong enough to mean collegiality,” Angus said. “My concern is that the modernization is bringing more corporatization.”

Later in the Senate meeting, tension crackled between some Senators and the administration over Senate restructuring, when the body was asked to approve a change to the powers of the Senate Subcommittee on Courses and Teaching and Programs. The change would allow the chair of the subcommittee – an administrator, Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Morton Mendelson – to unilaterally approve all minor and moderate changes in degree programs.

At the meeting, Angus, all student senators, and several faculty senators, voted against the change. It ultimately passed, with an amendment mandating the change be reviewed in three years.

“This is another example of a corporate system, where you have deciders and decision-makers. Senate voted to streamline the process,” Angus said.

The full text of Munroe-Blum’s response can be found online here.