In a week of engagement with the student body, Principal and Vice Chancellor Heather Munroe-Blum met with campus media to field questions on critical issues that impact the McGill community. The principal responded to questions on military research, tuition fees, and the future of McGill as a vehicle-free campus.
Early this month, the administration announced that it would lift regulations on military-related research. The Daily asked the principal to account for the change in policy, and to explain why regulations which were previously accepted would no longer be applied.
Munroe-Blum responded that the policy change would bring McGill in line with the practices of other research-intensive universities, the majority of which do not apply unique conditions to research funded by military-related bodies.
“The line on military research [does not] appear in [any] other research policy guidelines at the federal level, or with any of our peer universities,” said Munroe-Blum. “We have so many protocols that govern the ethics of the research that we do, that it would take the onus off of us to review our own research proposals thoroughly if we just defaulted to a line and a policy on who the sponsor of the research was. And secondly, it is inappropriate in our view, including mine, to say that the sponsor of the research is what dictates the usefulness of the research.”
According to the principal, the research restrictions’ impact on McGill’s ability to competitively secure investment in science and scholarship influenced the policy change. The countries that invest heavily in basic science under a defence-related framework have also been those that invest the most in the fundamental sciences, Munroe-Blum said. She cited the U.S. as “the best example of that.”
Munroe-Blum added that the policy on military research “has no good policy bearing and it provided a false sense of reassurance on something that has to be at the end of the day [a matter of] good judgment and good process.” She stated that while this may not satisfy students, she felt “much more comfortable” with the new policy than with the prior one.
The principal also commented on the University’s efforts to address underfunding. The University has already raised $500-million through the Campaign McGill fund-raising drive, while McGill’s MBA program switched to a self-funded model, increasing tuition to $29,500 – a jump of 1,663 per cent for Quebec residents. The Daily asked whether increasing tuition was part of the University’s long-term plan.
Munroe-Blum responded that the University needs stable and effective levels of public investment. “With respect to tuition my view is that we should not be aiming to have American tuition rates, [and] that we have a completely public university system,” said Munroe-Blum.
She added, however, that low tuition did not equate to a better system of education, and criticized the framework used to determine tuition levels and distribution in Quebec.
“Quebec has the lowest tuition fees in all of Canada…. We have the lowest degree completion rate, and the lowest participation rate in all of Canada, so it is not a success story,” said Munroe-Blum.
“If you come to McGill from outside Quebec and Canada…[your] fees just don’t come to McGill. Those fees go into a pool that funds the whole Quebec university system…so our students don’t get the benefit of the tuition fees they pay if they come from outside of Quebec. I think there is a principle of fairness that is unjustly applied there,” she added.
The principal also said that while she was proud to be leading a public university, she did not believe it was fair that those who could pay a fairer share of the costs pay such low fees, and advocated that Quebec tuition be raised to the Canadian average.
“If you are really lacking funds, you don’t need free tuition. You need a grant or a loan or some combination of things…because the only way you are going to get both accessibility and quality is by having enough revenues over all, and having a commitment to providing support for those who are qualified to come but don’t have the support to do it themselves,” said Munroe-Blum.
Munroe-Blum was also asked when McGill will realize its goal of becoming a car-free campus. While she declined to give an exact date, the principal stated that it was “a big desire” for the administration to carry out the plan, and hoped that the campus would be vehicle-free by the end of the year.
“We are going as fast as we can, and we are going faster than we thought we would be able to…. I would say a vehicle-free campus is not just about sustainability, but safety as well, and the culture, and sense of community,” said Munroe-Blum. “We seem to have stronger than ever engagement with the local government on it. We’ve got the bike path in, and these are all steps to getting there.”