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Board of Governors discusses sustainable investments

Environmental damage now included in definition of social injury

Updated May 23, 2014.

On May 22, McGill’s Board of Governors (BoG) convened for its final meeting of the year, discussing issues such as the revision of the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) terms of reference, the progress of Vision 2020, and the renewal of McGill’s licensing agreement for copyright-protected material.

Sustainability and responsible investments

The BoG unanimously approved CAMSR’s new terms of reference, revisions to which were proposed following a public consultation in which about 40 individuals participated, according to the committee’s report to the Board. BoG Chair Stuart “Kip” Cobbett said that the community was exceptionally consulted for the review – which happens every three years – because the proposed changes were particularly significant.

The approved changes include a broadening of the definition of social injury to include “grave environmental damage,” as well as a requirement for CAMSR to meet at least once a year to make recommendations to the Board on various aspects of its investments. CAMSR was previously required to meet only following the submission of a petition by the McGill community.

Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney expressed support for the changes.

“I think the changes are very progressive and positive for McGill and demonstrate that the Board is engaged with the community and receptive to input from students, faculty, staff, and alumni […],” Mooney wrote in an email to The Daily. “I believe that [a petition to recommend action with regard to a small group of companies that do grave damage to the environment] is much more likely to succeed under the new terms of reference.”

In an email to The Daily, incoming Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP External and Divest McGill member Amina Moustaqim-Barrette expressed her disappointment with the fact that CAMSR will also be mandated to consider financial aspects in its recommendations.

“I am worried about what the added fiduciary statement will mean in regards to CAMSR’s decision-making process. CAMSR is not designed for financial expertise – its mandate requires it to look at the investment portfolio and to make recommendations based on ethical concerns,” she wrote.

In a presentation to the BoG on the progress of the Vision 2020 sustainability initiative, McGill Office of Sustainability (MOOS) manager Martin Krayer von Krauss noted that holding a public consultation to review CAMSR’s terms of reference was one of the provisions of Vision 2020’s Action Plan, drafted as part of a process to elaborate a comprehensive sustainability strategy for the university.

Krayer von Krauss also highlighted the rapid progress of sustainable investment initiatives at other universities, citing the adoption of a responsible investment strategy at the University of British Columbia and Stanford University’s decision to divest from coal. He noted that, at McGill, all major changes made in the context of the sustainability strategy, including investment decisions, would have to go through “regular channels” – meaning the final word would rest with the BoG.

Licensing agreement renewed

A motion was also put forth to ratify McGill’s newly renegotiated licensing agreement with Copibec, a collective of authors and publishers that manages licensing of copyright-protected material. The agreement sets the fee for the reproduction of copyrighted works at $15 per full-time student per semester, a decrease from the previous rate of $21.

Provost Anthony Masi acknowledged concerns that Copibec’s high rates may not be justified, given the increasing digitization of course material and the expansion of fair dealing in federal copyright law to include educational purposes. “Copyright issues have become much more complex […],” he said. “[McGill is] dealing with material that is born digital, digitized, and reproduced.”

Mooney noted that other Canadian universities have not renewed similar agreements, and spoke against the ratification of the new agreement. He was the only one to vote against the motion.

School of Information Studies relocated to Faculty of Arts

The BoG approved the transition of the School of Information Studies (SIS) from the Faculty of Education to the Faculty of Arts, which has also been approved by Senate and by the faculties concerned. “[T]he nature of SIS and its programs of studies and research have changed [since the School was placed in the Faculty of Education in 1996], and the discipline is an increasingly multidisciplinary field that shares many attributes, features and methodologies with social sciences and humanities,” the Report from Senate reads.

Delivering the Principal’s remarks, Principal Suzanne Fortier commented on a meeting she held with Quebec Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports Yves Bolduc regarding funding of universities. Fortier said that the Couillard government’s budget, to be tabled in early June, will allocate less funding to McGill than the previous government has planned. Fortier added later in the meeting that Bolduc favours funding based on academic performance indicators, an area of strength for McGill relative to other Quebec universities.

The 2012-13 Report on Safe Disclosure was also presented to the BoG, informing it that one report of improper activity was filed in the period from November 2012 to October 2013 under the Policy on Safe Disclosure, a document meant to protect whistleblowers at McGill. Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa concluded that the report did not allege improper activity as defined in the Policy, and no action was taken.