Heather Munroe-Blum is wearing a red suit and a string of silver pearls. To her right sits Olivier Marcil, Vice-Principal (External Relations), and Doug Sweet, Director of Internal Communications. Principal and Vice-Chancellor Munroe-Blum assumed her position in 2003 and the University website claims that her achievements since are “leading to measures and improvements [that] enhance the university experience for McGill’s 35,000 students.” Yet, she doesn’t even talk to these students whose education she is drastically improving. This is the once-a-semester press conference the Principal holds with McGill’s student press.
The ‘interview’ consisted of a one-way dialogue where editors from The Daily, Le Délit, and the Tribune asked questions regarding asbestos research, accessibility to education, and underfunding, among other concerns. Munroe-Blum answered in the familiar bureaucratic tactic of repeating the same explanation that in actuality explains nothing.
The role of the university principal is changing. Principals no longer represent the interests of the students but those of the University as a corporation. As the threat of tuition hikes has increased, the quality of education has not. When asked by The Daily about whether or not the University perpetuated inequality due to the reality that not all students could afford McGill, Munroe-Blum essentially answered that it wasn’t that bad here and that access to education shouldn’t necessarily correlate to cost. She discussed general philanthropy and “a campaign over the last seven to eight years where building support for students [has] been one of the three major pillars.” Students cannot afford tuition, yet administrative salaries have consistently increased over the last three years, not including yearly bonuses. Heather received a $120,481 bonus for the 2010-11 academic year, a $131,379 bonus for 2009-10, and a $229,307 bonus for 2008-09.
Currently, there exists no conversation between the administration and the students they govern. The channels of communication offered by the administration include the email MRO system and public Twitter feeds, all of which serve to talk at students and not with them. When asked by The Daily whether McGill would listen to and respond to SSMU’s recent motion to encourage the University to divest from Tar Sands investments, Munroe-Blum responded by explaining that there is a committee for that at the Board where, “you know, a motion could come to if there is an interest in bringing the motion forward.” Vague and dismissive.
It has been a year since Munroe-Blum was in silent attendance at the rally following the events of November 10 called “We are all McGill.” This rally publicly declared how students, professors, union leaders, and community members envisioned their university, symbolically renaming James Square as “Community Square.” However, as I sit in this meeting, I see that not much has changed. The vision our Principal has of the University is irreconcilably different with that of the students. The Principal our University deserves is one that will, at the very least, speak with students.
Hera Chan was present at the November 2 interview with Heather Munroe-Blum as a photographer for The Daily. The opinions expressed here are her own. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.