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McGill fundraising campaign raises over $1 billion

Philanthropy cannot replace government funds, principal says

After eight years of fundraising, Campaign McGill has come to a close with the announcement that it has raised $1.026 billion, a record for the University that surpasses the initial set goal of $750 million. This money will not cover any losses from budget cuts, but will instead fund student aid, the renovation of infrastructure, teaching and learning spaces, and research.

Campaign McGill is the largest fundraising effort the University has ever undertaken, according to outgoing Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, and the first in several decades. While larger amounts of money have been raised by Canadian universities before, Munroe-Blum said at a press conference on Tuesday that “this is a huge record for McGill, it’s beyond a record.”

Over 95,000 donors – more than half of which were from Quebec – took part in the Campaign, with almost 85 per cent donating under $1,000. Donations from individuals made up 60 per cent of all the donations, while 26 per cent came from foundations, and the remaining 14 per cent from corporations.

The corporatization of the University has been a concern held by some on campus during the campaign. At the beginning, in October 2007, campus activists protested that publicly-funded education was being undermined after Munroe-Blum announced a $10 million donation from Hydro Quebec, and two private $5 million donations.

Vice-Principal of Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) Marc Weinstein said that, in the end, the total amount of donations from corporations was just below the estimated average for most universities.

However, according to Weinstein, this 14 per cent does not include donations from prominent members of corporations. In an earlier interview with The Daily, Weinstein said, “At the end of the day, it’s who writes the cheque, if we’re going to be really crass about it.”

Eyebrows were also raised in 2008 when the Campaign asked the Law Students’ Association to donate an $80,000 surplus. Some students felt that it was inappropriate for current students to pay for their own or for their peers’ student aid.

Through the money raised, over 600 student bursaries, scholarships, fellowships, and awards were created, benefitting 3,700 students to date. However, Munroe-Blum conceded that there is still “a gap in our ability to allow every qualified student to come [to McGill] who doesn’t have the means to come on their own.”

When asked how large the gap between scholarships and student aid versus student need was, Munroe-Blum would only comment, “It’s closing.”

Munroe-Blum also identified a need for renovations to teaching and learning space, as well as infrastructure, at McGill. “We have a beautiful, historic campus, but with a lot of needs. This one source of finances is not enough to have a modern infrastructure.”

As donors can earmark their money to specifically support different areas, 62 per cent of funds went to support for students; 18 per cent to support for research; 17 per cent to support for faculty; and the remaining 3 per cent to other areas.

Donors could also choose to give money either to the University’s endowment, or as a “direct-spend” donation. McGill’s endowment, valued at just over $1 billion, ensures long-term support in the area of the donor’s choosing – only the income generated from the endowed donation is spent.

Direct-spend gifts are used in their entirety, allowing for short-term support and impact. According to a press release from the University, half of the donations were endowed, while half were direct-spend.

Whether direct-spend or endowed, Munroe-Blum made it clear that philanthropy – including money from the Campaign – would not, and should not, go toward the operating budget.

“Not a dollar of the philanthropy that comes in is used for the operating budget at the University. With the underfunding of universities that we experience, it is absolutely essential that government stay the course in funding universities to the high level. Philanthropy is no substitute for government support,” said Munroe-Blum.

Instead, speaking to the quality of research and education, Munroe-Blum said, “You can’t do that on philanthropy alone. You can’t do that on government support alone. You can’t do that on tuition alone. You need all three to come together, and each to stay the course to the best of their ability.”