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McGill plans to expand into Griffintown

Concerns raised over student consultation and corporate involvement

At the first 2012 meeting of Senate yesterday, plans concerning McGill’s involvement in the creation of an “innovation district” in Montreal’s former industrial centre, known as Griffintown, were presented publicly for the first time.

The project, known as the Quartier de l’Innovation (QI), aims to create a “collaborative ecosytem” that will impact economic development in the district, innovate academic and professional programs, and serve as the site for part of McGill’s downtown campus.

McGill’s partners in the QI include the École de technologie supérieure and the Quebec government.

Announced in May 2011, the QI’s internal planning process began last summer and culminated in a final report submitted to Rose Goldstein, Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations) in October.

Professor and Interim Director of the Montreal Neurological Institute, Phil Barker, chairs the QI’s internal planning process, and presented recommendations to Senate on Wednesday with Goldstein.

Barker spoke to the project’s emphasis on creating a neighbourhood in the former industrial centre. In her presentation of the project, Goldstein described the area as “beaten down,” and noted positive feedback she has received from staff and students thus far.

The report recommends the QI become a focal point for programs in areas like health technologies, social innovation, and innovation and entrepreneurship.

The report states that “corporate partners are anxious to have access to [McGill’s] pool of highly trained individuals. We recommend that QI-based businesses be given unique access to this pool.”

Corporate access would include job fairs, new innovation internship programs, and on-site interview infrastructure.

SSMU President Maggie Knight raised concerns regarding corporate social responsibility among potential corporate partners named in the QI recommendations, such as Bombardier, Google, and Monsanto.

“There’s a lot in that document about giving back to the community and the society and to the principles of sustainable development, and prosperity and so on,” said Knight. “But there’s also talk about relationships with some corporations that perhaps don’t obviously deeply value those same principles.”

“There needs to be some sort of ethical process,” she added.

PGSS President Roland Nassim pointed out the lack of student involvement in the project’s planning. Barker accounted for the lack of student input by stating that the process “unrolled quite quickly,” and was conducted over the summer at a “high level.”

“We recognize we need student input,” Barker added.

“This is McGill and they know better – that students want to be involved,” Nassim told The Daily. “It’s a good project but we’re going to have to see how students can be integrated. This is about students’ futures and careers in general, and not just about the people involved in the renovations.”

Knight noted Goldstein and Barker’s commitment to engaging students in the future, however, she added that “it was a little surprising to see something of that magnitude come to Senate for discussion before the students have been talked to. I think that’s not generally seen as best practices for engaging students.”

“I hope that we’ll engage in a productive conversation [from] this point forward,” said Knight.

The development of QI will undergo further consultation, with an aim to create a preliminary business plan by the end of March 2012.