News  Principal talks tuition, research

Munroe-Blum takes positive attitude towards contentious campus issues

To start off the semester, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum sat down with The Daily, our sister publication Le Délit, and The McGill Tribune to talk about tuition, teaching assistants (TAs), and First Nations at McGill.

McGill Daily: The Charest Government has allowed Quebec universities to increase tuition, often by very large amounts in short periods of time, and you’ve largely welcomed this. Do you think a university should have the right to set tuition at whatever price the market can bear?

Heather Munroe-Blum: I don’t see any evidence of huge changes, they’ve been extremely modest on every account. From the time I’ve come to McGill, I’ve argued on every account for a different policy on tuition, which is one that would essentially be characterized as re-regulation, not deregulation.

I actually don’t believe in driving costs as high as they can go – I don’t think that funds [determine] either accessibility or quality in a university, but I do believe our tuition is too low, I believe our funding overall is too low – that’s empirically supportable. The policy that I asked the [Board of Governors] to approve in my first year, which they did, is that we be able to, within the legislative possibilities of Quebec, raise tuition within the normal range, so you could even use the Canadian average or Canadian plus the public American average.

MD: What about international student fees?

HMB: It’s hardly a dramatic step that [Premier Jean] Charest has made. Re-regulation would mean that we would have the flexibility of fees that would be approved by the [Board of Governors], but with a notion…that 30 cents of every dollar go to student aid…. What I hope to say while I’m Principal is that no qualified student will be refused, or be unable to come to McGill because they don’t have the financial means to come. We still don’t have enough financial aid through McGill or through Quebec…. If you compare us to the other research-intensive universities in Canada, we lack about $100-million a year that would normally come in from tuition. If you look at the universities outside Quebec, no government pays for international students, so they are completely cost-driven fees – and the same in the public universities in the U.S. with which we associate ourselves. We like international students as part of the richness of McGill, not as a moneymaker. Deregulation means you can charge whatever you want. Re-regulation means you have principles that would govern the way you raise fees.

McGill Tribune:* [There are] new travel restrictions that prevent students and professors from certain areas because of travel warnings that the Canadian government have…. Were you happy with the way that process was implemented, and do you feel that that might adversely affect students who work in areas that naturally deal with conflict or strife?

HMB: Of course we’re not happy when things don’t get communicated smoothly and effectively, and I don’t think anybody would say they were. I’m not going to pretend they were, and I don’t think Provost [Morton] Mendelson would say they were either. I think the process that has evolved subsequently is a good one…that is a small group working with the Deputy Provost that iterate on the regulations for international travel. So those will be coming back to Senate for discussion, and they’re well developed, and there’s been a wide consultation process.

Look, our goals are we’re a deeply internationalized university, we’re proud of it, it’s part of our essential character. The goals are to support student mobility in every way we can while being prudent on safety. We’ve lost three collegues as you know in the developing world in the last six months.

MD: McGill’s pow-wow tries to attract First Nations high school students to the University, but the First Nations House tells us little has changed in the number of First Nations students enrolled at the school. We wonder if the lack of a First Nations Studies program has anything to do with the low enrollment. Do you agree?

HMB: We don’t know how many aboriginal students we have because we don’t register students in that way. You have to identify as aboriginal in order to qualify for any special services or support. That being said, we have a number of initiatives to reach out to aboriginal communities and to support aboriginal students to participate in the academic programs of McGill. The Deputy Provost is leading an initiative looking at, for example, not only at Native Studies, but how to offer educational programs that will be accessible and of interest to aboriginal students. And then, how do we support aboriginal students when they come in to be able to succeed in their studies – and especially those who come from remote communities. It’s an area we have as a priority for fundraising as well, in [Campaign McGill], not just review and planning, but implentation as well.

MD: How should the University determine who owns the rights to content produced here. How much should the source of funding of research, the facilities used, and the amount of contribution between students and professors affect this determination?

HMB: The intellectual property [IP] ownership should be determined through policy. We have policies that govern IP, and those policies are set in this case by Senate.

MD: There has been presence of corporate and military research on campus. We’re curious about the involvement McGill might have in their research.

HMB: Our normal policies pertain to grants of any kind, whether a foundation, a not-for-profit, a corporation, or government. A contract, whether it’s with [a] government, has different ways of looking at intellectual property and that’s determined again by our policy on a case-by-case basis. A lot of these questions then become philosophical: Who do you take money from? Well we don’t take illegal money. We then take a whole lot of money from a range of public sources – the majority of our money by far comes from public sources and the one example of so-called military research sponsored by the Department of Defense was for prosthetic research.

For better or worse, it’s unfortunate that the countries who have put the most into military research – the U.S., Singapore, Israel – have had more breakthroughs in science because so much basic science gets funded out of that. The fact is that governments spend an enormous amount of normal basic science research or applied science research – prosthetics would be an example – that has a broad human benefit or knowledge benefit. We look very much at what is the content of the research that’s being done here. Is it being used to benefit the quality of education here?

MD: Considering how much power TAs have on undergraduate marks, especially in large classes, do you think the amount of training they receive is sufficient? How would you change the way TAs are trained at McGill?

HMB: Dean Martin Kreiswirth – Dean of Graduate Students – works very closely with the faculties in giving full support to the orientation of graduate students and preparing them to teach. In any event [it] is a priority and progress is being made on that. This is an issue that could be expressed in a number of ways. Graduate students want preparation and high quality supervision and undergraduate students want TAs who are well prepared and do what they do. The close working relationship between professors and TAs is a key part of that. The Provost has overall responsibility for this, and has this as a high priority.

– compiled by Erin Hale

*The Tribune asked a question The Daily planned to ask, so rather than ask the same question again, we are reporting the question and answer that occurred during the interview.