Principal and Vice-Chancellor Heather Munroe-Blum hosted a town hall Tuesday in order to openly discuss issues of concern within the McGill community.
One of the main issues addressed was McGill’s budgetary restraints,and the low level of support for competitive grants to scholars and researchers.
“McGill is currently facing a tight budget,” explained Munroe-Blum. “We are working hard, however, to protect jobs and have done considerably well compared to other research-intensive universities in Canada and the United States.”
The principal added that while budgetary restraints have required the University to make cuts, the protection of jobs would remain a priority.
Others expressed concern with the University’s policy on faculty absence, which requires professors who fall sick with the H1N1 flu virus to find and pay their own replacement, and worried that the policy creates disincentives that would discourage faculty from staying home when ill.
The principal was also asked to comment on the administration’s support for a controversial event organized by Choose Life McGill earlier this fall. SSMU VP External Affairs Sebastian Ronderos-Morgan wanted to know whether there is a standard that the University uses to decide if any event is deemed appropriate.
Munroe-Blum responded that she chose to respect the club’s freedom of speech because she felt that no laws had been broken. Ronderos-Morgan felt that the principal’s response did not address his concern that the University has not provided a standard on issues involving freedom of expression.
“She didn’t address the question. She talked about the Choose Life event, and how she was disappointed that the event had been protested, and therefore not gone ahead as planned,” said Ronderos-Morgan.
He added, however, that “it was definitely clear that [Munroe-Blum] was informed of certain things over the course of the town hall, through the questions asked of her, and that, I think, is valuable.”
Joël Pedneault, the Arts Representative to SSMU, felt that Munroe-Blum’s response to a question on the high cost of international tuition was also inadequate.
“Principal Munroe-Blum claimed that tuition fees are based on public policy decisions and did not take responsibility for the high international fees,” said Pedneault.
“However, she is a member of the Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities and therefore does have a certain amount of say in this matter.”
Despite the principal’s limited responses, Pedneault still encouraged students to attend town hall meetings.
“There were several moments when no one had a question to ask. Also, many of the questions did not apply directly to students,” Pedneault explained. “If more students showed up, more issues regarding students would be addressed.”
Munroe-Blum was also asked to comment on the extensive construction taking place on campus, and how the construction has been funded.
According to Munroe-Blum, a great deal of the construction has been maintenance-related, such as tunnel work and renovations to the parts of buildings that pose safety hazards. The construction has been paid in large part by funds provided by the federal and provincial governments.
“McGill received $300-million from the province of Quebec and the federal government to improve its infrastructure, thus creating economic opportunities,” Munroe-Blum explained.
“The University is currently undergoing more construction than it has ever before,” she added. “There has been a long-standing need for renovations on campus.”
The federal stimulus money is also being used for academic purposes, such as infrastructure development for the chemistry department and research funding for the faculties of medicine, science, and engineering.
Munroe-Blum expressed her gratitude to those who attended the meeting and raised questions.
“There are no unacceptable views,” Munroe-Blum concluded. “We need a candid exchange of views in order to work together more effectively and make McGill an even better place.”
“My main frustration is not having enough time to meet with students, faculty members, and other members of this community [with] whom I do not interact with regularly,” Munroe-Blum said. “I feel it is important to hear a wide range of voices on matters of concern.”