Ask the Principal: webcast seeks to broaden campus communication

By McGill Reporter Staff

Principal Heather Munroe-Blum readily acknowledges that this fall has been a tough time at the University. The MUNACA strike has put a strain on all segments of the McGill community, and the Nov. 10 clash of protesters and riot police on campus shocked and dismayed many people who work and study here.

Munroe-Blum addressed those and other topics in an “Ask the Principal” live webcast on Nov. 29. More than 100 questions were posted online beforehand. Prof. Daniel Levitin, acting as moderator, posed several of the more popular ones. Munroe-Blum also took several open-line phone calls.

Following is a condensed sampling of some of her responses. The full, recorded webcast is available at: under PrincipalCom Webcast.

On ways to improve dialogue between the administration and students:

There’s no question we need to find ways of rebuilding the sense of community, especially after this very difficult fall. I’m out meeting with groups across the University –groups of professors, students, administrative and support staff – as are many colleagues in the academic leadership and administrative group. We are listening very carefully. I’m learning a lot. And we will certainly be forthcoming with ways of engaging more broadly in communication in many directions.

Clearly there’s a need for more open opportunity for debate and exchange of ideas. At the heart of everything we do is students. Debate, expression of different points of view is fundamental to what we do; it’s what makes us a university.

How will students benefit from tuition increases in the coming years?

Thirty-five per cent of the increases in tuition will go right into the Quebec envelope for student aid and student support. At McGill, 30 cents of every net new dollar of tuition that comes in goes into the student-support area. That has been our practice for many years now. Through that process we’ve grown by 500% the amount of student aid. But the fact remains that we cannot say today that we have the funds to allow every qualified student to come to McGill independent of their financial means.

(Other areas to look for improvements are) student services and innovation in teaching and teaching supports.

What will you do to enhance teaching and learning at McGill?

We take pride in who are professors are. Just last week I gave the Principal’s teaching award to a number of outstanding teachers. That being said, there’s no question there’s room for us to look at how to make teaching and learning more innovative at McGill. There are a lot of technological assists and other innovations that I think could deal with the fact that we have more than 34,000 students.

We do also have , in pockets of the University, a range of different modalities for learning: study abroad, field seminars, internships and so forth. And one of the questions we need to ask is, ‘What should be the hallmark of an undergraduate education at McGill? Should learning a language ,an international experience, an internship, should some element of online learning – should these be hallmarks of McGill’s education?

On the events of Nov. 10 and her subsequent meeting with Montreal’s chief of police:

Things happened that left people hurt and scared – that’s not good. We had the riot police on campus – that’s not good. These are events we want to avoid, we want to have a safe place, where people feel protected.

I met with the chief of police the following week. I tried to get my own views across on how unacceptable it is from a University point of view to have riot police on campus, and to understand his point of view about why that decision was made — and to look at ways that we could work together going forward. He clarified that when you call the police, it’s in their hands what they do. I clarified how it isn’t an easy step for our community, to go from the police being called to having police with bicycles working with us, to having riot police and tear gas – and that that was unacceptable from the point of view of our community … He undertook to look into it some more and we’re going to meet again subsequently.

To see the full list of posted questions, go to: