Munroe-Blum speaks to the student press

Principal Heather Munroe-Blum met with journalists from The Daily, the McGill Tribune, and Le Délit on Friday afternoon to discuss the recently completed Task Force on Diversity, Excellence and Community Engagement. The discussion also addressed other topics, including the deregulation of international student fees, the administration’s work with consulting firm McKinsey and Co., and the 2011 SSMU elections.

Three hours prior to the interview, Munroe-Blum held a Town Hall regarding the Task Force. She responded to a variety of questions focused on the possible impact of tuition increases on student diversity.

Deregulating international student fees

The deregulation of international student fees allows McGill to keep the entirety of fees international students pay to the University. Previously, 92 per cent of the fees were taken by the provincial government, and redistributed among all Quebec universities relative to overall enrolment.

“What I’ve been proposing to government since 2003 – is that we be able to move to a more competitive level of tuition fees,” said Munroe-Blum.

Munroe-Blum identified student financial aid as the primary recipient of the increased revenue. Thirty per cent of net new tuition revenue is being spent on financial aid.

Munroe-Blum also identified student advising as another recipient of increased revenue. Munroe-Blum said McGill has “been spending that and more in those areas.”

“It is being used,” said Munroe-Blum. “My hope is that while I’m principal – and I have a few years left as principal – that we will be able to say that every qualified student will be able to come to McGill independent of their financial needs.”

Le Délit asked Munroe-Blum whether she was planning on deregulating international student fees in more programs than the six that are currently deregulated. Munroe-Blum said that she favoured a “model of tuition that allows those who can pay more [to] pay more, and those who can’t to get a subsidy.”

“We’re not at that place in terms of what we’re asking for,” qualified Munroe-Blum. “We’re asking for an increase to the average of Canada for all students. But could it be reasonable to take some other disciplines and say, ‘Deregulate those’? I think it could.”

Responding to a question from Le Délit about the possibility of increasing the international student population, Munroe-Blum said there were no currently no such plans.

“It’s not a plan,” said Munroe-Blum. “We’re trying to actually keep that enrolment balance. It’s been very stable for a long time, and we’d like to keep it that way.”

A January draft of McGill’s Strategic Enrolment Management (SEM) plan described the University’s aim to increase the total international student population from 20 to 22 per cent of the overall student body, or by over 500 students. When The Daily reminded Munroe-Blum of the SEM plan figures, she said, “That’s interesting.”

“We have actually not talked about that at the senior table, so that’s not come yet to us, and [increases] will not be at the expense of the undergraduate proportionality,” she added.

Tuition increases and the MBA

Munroe-Blum clarified her position on hikes to general Quebec tuition, something that could be announced this Thursday with the release of the provincial budget.

“We believe that if…the Quebec government is going to increase tuition, they have to increase student aid – themselves, not just us – and they need to keep investing. And [Education] Minister [Line] Beauchamp made that commitment on December 6 in Quebec City, but I think it’s one of the things that we absolutely depend on,” she said.

Beauchamp announced on March 1 that McGill would face financial penalties for hiking tuition fees for the McGill MBA program from around $2,000 to $29,500. The Daily asked Munroe-Blum what her reaction to the announcement was.

“We’re in discussions with the Minister…and we hope we come to an understanding on it,” she said. “You’ll know in what [Beauchamp] presented that she talked about penalties unless the case can be made that this is a special program.”

When asked if the University was trying to make the case that McGill’s MBA is a special program, Munroe-Blum replied that a lot of changes have been made to the program, and that they were part of their discussions with Beauchamp.

“Our Board [of Governors] is not going to turn back on this program. We have to be able to fund it effectively,” said Munroe-Blum. “We feel like we’re doing the right thing. And we would like to be doing it in concert and in partnership with the Quebec government – not in opposition to them.”

McKinsey & the McGill administration

A question from the Tribune asked Munroe-Blum if she had concerns about working with McKinsey after recent revelations in the Financial Times that several top McKinsey executives were currently being investigated by the American government for insider trading.

“We’re not working with McKinsey,” said Munroe-Blum, stating that two McKinsey executives and McGill alumni – one being Claude Généreux, who was appointed to McGill’s Board of Governors in January – were giving the University pro bono guidance.

“The normal McKinsey model is…that you bring in a big team of McKinsey people, they come in and value it, they come in and do the benchmarking,” said Munroe-Blum.

“That’s not what we’ve done. We have taken the willingness of two distinguished alumni who are senior people in McKinsey to help us develop the ability inside to benchmark our practices – in the areas that we’re looking at – against the best, and do fact-finding about our own strengths and weaknesses in that area.”

Munroe-Blum also stated that the pro bono consultation was only temporary, starting in September and ending a few weeks ago.

“We did it ourselves, and now it’s ours – and it has been from the beginning. That’s why we called it the Strategic Reframing Initiative, not the McKinsey Initiative,” she said.

In regard to McKinsey’s activities reflecting poorly on McGill, Munroe-Blum was not worried, and was interested in how the investigation would continue. She talked of how the case related to the Academy Award-winning, Inside Job, a documentary chronicling the causes of the 2008 American financial crisis.

“I think it’s interesting to see that even a venerable institution like McKinsey, someone who’s dominated in the field, is not impervious to having human error and judgment and integrity problems,” said Munroe-Blum. “It’s interesting, but I don’t worry about it contaminating McGill at all because McKinsey…hasn’t come inside [McGill].”

“I think it’s something to watch and be mindful of,” said Munroe-Blum, “but we have to think about integrity issues within the University and with all of our partners – all the time.”

Student relations and SSMU elections

Munroe-Blum stated that relations between students and the administration were good, in stark contrast to student condemnation of the administration’s lack of consultation and dismissal of their concerns.

“I don’t sense that there is bad feeling with students and the administration,” said Munroe-Blum in French. “I think that we have very good collaboration with students; we have lots of student participation in governance decisions.”

Munroe-Blum did say that the structure of McGill student governance made it more difficult for administrators to interact with students. She described it as a “funnel system” that narrowed the expanse of student leadership down to just a handful of student representatives.

“In other universities normally the administration would interact with many, many more student leaders. The system at McGill is that PGSS executives represent the graduate students, SSMU executives represent the undergraduate students – the same with [Continuing Education] and Macdonald [campus],” said Munroe-Blum. “The good thing is it gets us out and has me invite other students in, but I think it would be great if we could have more participation of the broader student leadership.”

When asked if she had been following the SSMU elections, particularly the presidential candidates, Munroe-Blum responded that she had. Election results were announced in Gert’s minutes after the interview ended.

“It looks like there’s a strong slate, which is terrific,” said Munroe-Blum. “I know them pretty much from the same material that people who don’t know them well know them from. What I really hope is that there will be a good turnout in the election.”