In the two weeks after November 10, it has become increasingly clear to the McGill community that things need to change at the leadership level. If students and other community members wish to see real reform, they must set their sights on the University’s highest decision-making body: the Board of Governors (BoG). If there is any McGill institution that embodies everything staff and students have been protesting for years, it is the BoG. It dictates the direction of the University along an increasingly corporate, for-profit, business model, making decisions on behalf of staff and students they have never met, and all behind firmly closed doors.
Six times a year, the BoG convenes to make the ultimate financial and administrative decisions for the University. They do this, in part, in a confidential session, with the public sessions not publicized at all, and with no public minutes. The two student representatives on the BoG – the SSMU and PGSS presidents – are bound by confidentiality agreements. It preemptively stifles any dissent staff and students may want expressed in BoG meetings. At the very least, BoG meeting minutes should be made public, so that staff and student representatives can more effectively represent their constituents’ interests. The fact that the BoG can make decisions like investing in environmentally destructive companies and unilaterally approving the term extensions of senior administrators, in a way that is unbeknownst to those it affects, is absurd.
Of the 25 Board members, 12 are “members-at-large,” serving on a volunteer basis, spending the majority of their time and energy as senior executives in some of the largest corporations in Canada (Quebecor, Telus, and HSBC, to name a few). These members work within corporate business models where the main concern is profit. The profit motive has no place in a university, where the main concern should be education and student life. McGill should be governed by people with a physical and emotional stake in the well-being of the University and people who are in touch with the needs of the McGill community; corporate members-at-large do not fall into this category. Setting foot on campus six days a year to attend a BoG meeting doesn’t justify having “final authority over the conduct of the affairs of the University.”
Such members-at-large do not belong on a university’s highest decision-making body, and should not have a place on the BoG at the expense of more active and invested community members. The justification for these corporate board members is ensuring McGill’s financial viability. But this ignores the fact that there are those other than CEOs who can manage McGill’s substantial endowment while keeping in mind the University community’s best interest.
This reduction in external corporate influence must be paired with an increase in staff and student representation. Under the existing BoG structure, the SSMU and PGSS presidents cannot adequately represent the roughly 30,000 students in the University, nor can the handful of representatives for the thousands of faculty members and non-academic staff, some of whom have been working at McGill for decades with no say in the BoG’s decisions.
Senate employs a system of proportional representation by faculty – at both the student and faculty level – that would help solve this problem. Faculty representatives would better focus student and faculty grievances, and ensure that the student voice is taken into account in Board decisions. Furthermore, the growing organized labour presence on campus has no representation on the Board, despite the fact that unions collectively represent the interests of over 7,000 campus employees. In that spirit, a democratic and representative BoG should include representatives of all campus unions.
Change needs to happen, and this can only be enacted by the Board itself. In order to catalyze this change, we will require the collective voice of the entire community, from students, to staff, to faculty. In September, the Concordia Board of Governors voted to slash student representation on the BoG by 75 per cent, despite every student representative voting against the motion and outcry from the student body. We stand witness to a growing trend of decreased student representation, and must act now before McGill’s situation worsens.
This movement will only be as strong as the community collectively makes it. There is already a community initiative to reform the BoG. This initiative, the McGill Governance Reform Project, held their first meeting this past Thursday. We strongly encourage any and all staff, students, and faculty to participate in this movement. If we want to see a university that is governed by those within the McGill community, reforming the BoG should be the first step. If you’d liked to get involved, visit mcgillgovernancereform.wordpress.com/about/.