Commentary  Sketchy finances, misplaced priorities


Over the past few months, new information has emerged regarding McGill’s loan to the former director of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), Arthur Porter. Porter resigned last year amidst scandal involving corruption and and accusations of failure to perform his duties. On November 13, McGill filed a lawsuit against Porter in the Superior Court, asking for full repayment of a low-interest loan, plus interest, plus a salary received in error – a sum totalling $317,154. Previous to this, on October 15, McGill politely asked Porter to “kindly reimburse the overpayment” within seven days, lest they be forced to get tough. Porter replied a week later, signalling his intent to repay the loan, but nothing has been heard from him since. His whereabouts are now unknown, and McGill, the ‘underfunded university,’ is in the lurch.

This incident demonstrates once again the opacity of McGill’s financial practices. That it has come to forceful reappropriation of the legal system through Access to Information requests and documents from McGill’s lawyers in order to even learn about McGill’s finances is embarrassing. But it is clear why McGill is so unforthcoming with its finances: their money is mismanaged. The scandal around Porter is but one example of financial mismanagement at this University.

The way McGill handles its money is indicative of misplaced priorities. Another prominent manifestation of financial irresponsibility involves McGill’s excessive severance packages. In 2009, for example, the University paid $321,471 in severance to Ann Dowsett Johnston, a former McGill Vice President (Development, Alumni and University Relations), who departed after 19 months in her position. (The details of her departure were not known, as per McGill’s confidentiality clause). When Porter resigned in December of last year, the University threw him two ‘farewell parties,’ which cost a total of $15,000 to $20,000. In a Daily article (“McGill Health Centre threw farewell parties worth over $15,000,” January 21, 2012), Ian Popple, communications coordinator at MUHC, was quoted as saying that these types of functions were standard, and that “they help with team building.” Not only does this demonstrate McGill’s reckless use of money in regard to hiring and firing senior administrators, but it also sheds light on the University’s prioritization of administrators to the detriment of workers and students alike.

Students should strongly question the administration’s rhetoric that we are an underfunded university. Members of the senior administration receive large salaries with handsome perks, like those running the “world class” universities that Heather Munroe-Blum is wont to describe. Perhaps this is the reason for McGill’s opacity in its financial dealings: it likes to tell us all that we are an underfunded university while, at the same time, it spends money on food, and wine, and cars, and parties, and exorbitant loans. If this became well known, their  message of underfunding would be moot. The tendency of this university to withhold financial information is a cheap and deliberate facade; this reality must become apparent if we ever hope to move forward.