Commentary | McKinsey consulting bodes ill for McGill community

This past November, McGill’s principal Heather Munroe-Blum announced that the management-consulting firm McKinsey & Co. would provide their services to McGill senior administrators for free. Considered the most high-profile company of their kind, McKinsey has worked for entities ranging from Enron to the British Cabinet Office, and has produced more CEOs than any other company. McKinsey’s offer also coincides with the appointment of Claude Généreux, currently a senior associate director at McKinsey, to McGill’s Board of Governors (BoG). The BoG is the University’s highest governing body; it makes most of McGill’s business and administrative decisions – behind closed doors.

McKinsey has a track record of imposing harmful measures on its clients, and their presence on our campus does not bode well for staff and students. Working for Minneapolis public schools, the firm proposed funding cuts for teachers’ health care and converting the 25 per cent of schools with the lowest scores on standardized tests into privatized charter schools. The firm’s results in the private sector are not much better: for example, the company advised Walmart to convince its employees that its notoriously low wages and negligible benefits are “better than perceived.”

McKinsey’s austerity tactics have recently influenced the massive cuts to higher education and planned tuition increases. These changes came on the heels of recommendations from the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance – whose members include Michael Barber, the head of the firm’s Global Education Practice. American schools are also turning to this example to address low levels of performance in public schools in New York and Ohio.

The McKinsey consultants will aid in Munroe-Blum’s Strategic Reframing Initiative (SRI), which will establish working groups headed by senior administrators meant to address the University’s performance anxieties in an increasingly competitive international market. Key initiatives run the gamut from the euphemistic “Cost Efficiencies” and “Performance Management,” to the more concrete issues of student enrolment, fundraising, and research.

In a November 18 interview with the McGill Reporter, the principal made her anxieties clear: “For decades McGill was a front-runner with respect to overshooting our market share of competitively allocated research funding and academic research and scholarly awards,” she said. “We’re now being squeezed not just by bigger universities like Toronto and UBC…but more recently by smaller universities…in recruiting and retaining top talent.”

While attracting research funding and talent is certainly a part of the University’s mandate as a public institution, it cannot come at the cost of overlooking any of the employees – academic or otherwise – who keep the organization running, especially in the face of a steadily growing cadre of middle management: administrative and support staff numbers have risen by over 14 per cent since 2004 at McGill, according to this year’s University budget report.

McKinsey has a reputation for prioritizing profits over people, and for doing so opaquely and without public accountability. The quality of our university should not be sacrificed in the name of efficiency. The very presence of McKinsey consultants caused the Seattle Education Association to develop an organized resistance in 2008. McKinsey was even a defendant in Hurricane Katrina litigations for faulty advising to the insurance industry, in which the Louisiana Attorney General characterized their service, “Deny, delay, defund” to home insurers taking claims from New Orleans residents. While the case has since been dismissed, McKinsey’s attitude is clear.

As we await the outcomes of the SRI, students and staff should question the role McKinsey plays on our campus, as others have done elsewhere, and be prepared to organize against the firm’s proposals when their intentions become clear.


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