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McGill cycling out tenured professors to cut costs

The final part of a four part series : Admin staff, salaries, on the rise

Click to view the University’s 2010-2011 budget

In a blend of economic, academic, and prestige enhancing goals, McGill has invested $9.8 million in an “academic renewal” program, essentially insitutionalizing professor turnover.

The measure is designed to replenish McGill’s professorial ranks, improving the University’s academic quality and international prestige, while also saving money in the long-term.

McGill started the program in 2000, augmenting it in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 with a retirement incentive package designed to encourage a greater turnover among tenure-track professors. More than 80 tenure-track professors aged 64 and older signed up for the retirement package, which offered the professors a one-time buyout of one third more than their annual salary. The added expense is offset by the hiring of non-tenured professors at lower salaries, while continuing McGill’s strong reputation for professorial research.

A McGill professor, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the budget’s phrasing of academic renewal can be misleading, however.

“Many faculty members are eager to retire from McGill because their salaries and working conditions have been so poor throughout their careers at this institution, and they would just like to get away from a workplace that has treated them so ungenerously,” the professor said.

The professor cited the lack of a faculty union to represent the faculty and their interests.

“The McGill administration can autocratically say and do almost anything without ever being seriously challenged by the faculty any more than by the students,” said the professor.

2010-11 will see 76 new professors hired along with the departure of 80 more, leaving the end-of-year total of professors at 1,558. Following years will see the number of new hires exceeding those of departures, as well as the end-of-year totals steadily rising, reaching a projected 1,625 in 2014-15.

“McGill wants to provide the number-one academic experience to students. Students are of tremendous benefit if we have successful academic renewal,” said SSMU President Zach Newburgh.

Academic renewal also plays a role in maintaining McGill’s international prestige, as renowned professors attract more graduate students and research grants. This added motive means that some programs may feel the benefits of academic renewal more than others.

“Some programs have more academic renewal than others…[The renewal] leads to more grants and scholarships,” said Newburgh.

Newburgh identified medicine and science as programs that could see more professorial turnover than others.

Province wants “Bang for the buck”

Daniel Simeone, former PGSS President and Board of Governors representative (BoG), said that McGill has been successful in balancing its commitments to research and the undergraduate academic experience by maintaining one of the highest tenure-track professor-to-student ratios in Quebec.

Simeone said McGill is tasked with balancing provincial demands for increased undergraduate enrollment – putting more students in school in order to attract more votes – with the federal government focus on research innovation.

“Quebec City wants more bang for the buck,” said Simeone, meaning the provincial government wants McGill to employ more sessional lecturers than tenure-track professors, who can perform the same lecturing duties of professors at lower salaries.

Meanwhile, the federal government – in an attempt to market Canada as a world-leader in innovation – is rewarding universities with lucrative grants in return for intensive research.

PGSS VP External Ryan Hughes said that this focus on research is not unique to McGill.

“The last federal budget explicitly cited research as a focus for investment, and as a research-intensive university, McGill is following the money, but so is every other university with a graduate program,” said Hughes in an email to The Daily.

Increasing the number of tenure-track professors at McGill serves to attract more graduate students, and subsequently more research grants. These grants not only increase revenue, but also maintain McGill’s prestige as a top research-oriented university.

“The University wants to maintain its prestige…[it] needs to say it’s continually attracting the top professors,” said Newburgh, who also said that “[all] students are of tremendous benefit if we have successful academic renewal.”

Due to the direct relationship between research revenue, prestige, and the number of graduate students, the University and the province are subsidizing graduate education to a greater extent than undergraduate education.

Competition for research grants is fierce, and due to low government funding McGill relies on revenue from such grants. Thus, McGill is attempting to attract more graduate students – and thereby more research – by supplying them with more financial aid.

The graduate student lifestyle, compared to the undergraduate lifestyle, is also a significant factor in this economic strategy.

“In some cases Masters and PhD students have incomes that offset tuition fees, either through their program as a TA or RA, or from being employed outside of the university in some professional setting. Plus, graduate students can be funded in a variety of ways that are unavailable to undergraduate students,” including various endowments and grants that only graduate students are eligible for, said Hughes.

Simeone described graduate studies, especially in the case of lab students, as a full time job, with some students working eight to 12 hour days.

“[McGill] needs to pay to get the good [graduate students],” said Simeone. “Grads are doing the research the University is known for… It’s a different understanding of what school is.”

Student surveys forthcoming?
Amidst these efforts to increase the number of tenure-track professors and graduate students, the administration is also making efforts to alter its own operations through the budget. In the budget, the administration states a desire to increase its own efficiency and transparency through streamlining its operations, cutting red-tape, and introducing more extensive self-evaluation procedures.

The budget describes professional development programs and a “Financial Specialists” program designed to professionalize the administrative workforce and improve the reporting of McGill’s spending. Newburgh also described recent rises in administrative salaries, and said that such funding could be allocated more effectively.

“Academics should be the top priority,” said Newburgh.

Non-academic salaries will rise between three and 3.5 per cent this year, and the budget shows that management and professional staff at McGill has increased from roughly 1,150, to over 1,400 since FY2005, although the budget projects that the number of full time administrative staff is expected to decrease slightly in the coming years.

The budget also states a desire to “make sure we measure our internal performance.” It goes on to state that “we will be undertaking major surveys of faculty…[and that] we have already been surveying our students.”

No evidence of such surveys have been found by students at this juncture.

“I’m not familiar with any surveys [of students],” said Newburgh. “SSMU is working to revamp the way we get student feedback. I hope the University is interested in consulting us.”

In her November 2009 Economic Letter, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum wrote that “McGill punches above its weight [economically]…[but] to do more with less is not sustainable in the medium to long run.”

In an email, Provost Anthony Masi – whose office drafted the budget – said that every member of the McGill community, from undergraduate and graduate students to faculty and administrators, should find ways to tighten their collective belt.

“Everyone, including students, should be vigilant about cost savings and feel free to make suggestions about how these [cost-cutting measures] might be obtained in any and all aspects of the University’s operations,” said Masi.

Other installments in this series:
Part 1 – Administration releases landmark budget; deficit to be eliminated by end of fiscal year
Part 2 – Budget forecasts severe tuition increases; student aid still inaccessible
Part 3 – McGill stuck on deferred maintenance treadmill; admin using outside investments to pay for new property