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Principal sits down with campus media for the last time

As the five male journalists and photographers from The Daily, Le Délit, and the Bull and Bear sat down for the end of year interview with Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, she asked, in French: “Where are all the women?” 

Questions focused mainly on budget cuts and the recent protest protocol, as well as the reputation of McGill on the whole as an international institution. Munroe-Blum took the interview as an opportunity to reiterate the fact that the administration is trying its best to preserve academic quality throughout the cuts. She said that the administration has been lobbying the government against the cuts, and that its top priority is to get fair funding. She said that the government cuts are keeping universities “hostage,” and that this was the wrong way of going about cutting government spending – which she felt was important in light of the government’s deficit.

Speaking about the changes at McGill during her tenure, Munroe-Blum said that she thinks the biggest transformative factor has been globalization, motivating universities across the world to do research that “makes a difference socially and economically.”

She felt that democracy is currently in “full bloom” on campus, and she was happy that McGill is such an outspoken community. Student protests, she said, have not necessarily been bad for McGill’s reputation, and when asked about the new protest protocol, Munroe-Blum said that she was proud that McGill had seen “more demonstration in the last 24 months, of all kinds.” She felt that the new protocol managed to support the safety and sense of well-being of students and professors.

The McGill Daily (MD): McGill is the only university thus far that has decided to cut so drastically and immediately. Other universities are either dipping into their capital budgets, waiting on new directives, or counting on the promised $1.7 billion reinvestment. Why?

Heather Munroe-Blum (HMB): [McGill] dominantly delivers programs by our tenured professors, the majority of Quebecois universities run on a very different model, which is very much a chargé-de-cours and part-time student model. There’s no question that it costs more to run a research-intensive, graduate student-intensive university, with a range of professional faculties, and that is our mission […] Our credit rating is a credit rating that Quebec depends on. Quebec borrows money on our credit rating.

Le Délit (in French): Since the quiet revolution Quebeckers have been fighting against deregulating tuition fees, however, you have said that we have been treating tuition fees as a “vache sacrée,” that we have been giving this struggle too much importance. How can you say that McGill is part of Quebec but still have this view?

HMB: I don’t believe that professors should say things they don’t believe, and I look at the different data, and I see that in my first years here a frozen, low tuition fee, did not get accessibility, and it did not build quality. We don’t want American tuition fees here, but I think that it’s very important to be honest about what builds educational strength and what creates degree completion.

MD: The police have been especially heavy-handed with demonstrators this year. Do you think they could have had different tactics?

HMB: I don’t think I need to tell the police or the government how to run their circumstances. I was very surprised last spring that a range of universities in Quebec did not stand up for the right of students to attend their classes. And I did express this in the context of the university system.

MD: When we came in, you asked us “where are the women?” Do you consider yourself a feminist, and if so, what does this mean for you, and how does that translate into university policy?

HMB: I never thought of myself as a feminist or not, but I did hear my mother every day saying, education is the source of all things good. She believed very powerfully in that, and [she] lectured my brothers every day on how to treat women. That was the culture I grew up in. […] I saw in the days after [my appointment as Principal], how powerful it was, not just to women and girls, but to visible minorities, to older men who were immigrants, that McGill, this traditional university that everyone had seen as far off and untouchable, was suddenly open. And it was really a dramatic example, for me, of the power of symbols.

— Correction appended April 5