News  McGill admin brings in consulting firm

Controversial McKinsey Co. will offer services free of charge

The Washington, D.C.-based management consulting company McKinsey has offered its services to McGill’s senior administration free of charge to help in the University’s recently launched Strategic Reframing Initiative (SRI).

Principal Heather Munroe-Blum made the announcement in a short video circulated to McGill students via email on November 30, 2010. “As it happens, we have several alumni who are senior folks in the McKinsey Consulting Corporation,” Munroe-Blum said in the video. “They have volunteered their services pro bono,” she continued.

The SRI is aimed to “advance [McGill’s] progress on top priorities” in five areas including research, enrollment and fundraising, according to Munroe-Blum. The principal indicated that the McKinsey alumni would be used to train McGill employees in the company’s methods. “This is not a one-shot effort,” Munroe-Blum said. “It’s something that we will make endemic.”

Munroe-Blum called McKinsey “arguably the best consulting company in the world.” However, she stressed that McGill’s relationship with the firm will not be like those of American universities, in at least one respect. “One way we’re doing it slightly different than our sister universities south of the border,” the principal said, referring to working with McKinsey, is to work “without hiring in a lot of external people – using the pro bono consulting of our McKinsey alumni – but actually building that capacity and expertise in using these processes right within our organization.”

McKinsey has a checkered history advising in the education sector, and has been unpopular with teachers’ unions in the U.S. In 2007, McKinsey recommended that the Minneapolis Board of Education replace the lowest-performing 25 per cent of their schools, or restart them as privately-run charter schools. McKinsey also advised the Board to cut teacher health-care plans to save costs.

When Seattle’s school board hired McKinsey to survey their public schools and provide recommendations, teachers banded together to oppose the move, introducing a resolution against McKinsey to the board’s Representative Assembly.

In the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, author and Oxford scholar Simon Head charged that McKinsey was one of the consulting companies responsible for instituting management programmes in British universities that “dominate” scholars’ lives and demand that “the academy must deliver its research ‘output’ with a speed and reliability resembling that of the corporate world.”

McKinsey won its last major contract with an academic institution in November, when the University of Conneticut hired the firm to “examine UConn’s operations and recommend savings and revenue-enhancements that could total a significant amount of money to the university.” The consulting firm is being paid $3.9 million and expects to recoup roughly $50 million in savings, according to the chairman of UConn’s Board of Trustees.