Masi launches task force on finances

McGill Provost Anthony Masi. / Photo: Claudio Calligaris

Group of 21 will tackle long list of areas for savings, improvements

By McGill Reporter Staff

Some universities have frozen hiring, halted construction, cut budgets, stemmed the flow of income from endowments or, in extreme cases, begun to sell art collections.

The global economic crisis, which has swept the planet in a tsunami of plunging markets, shrivelled credit, foreclosures stacked on bankruptcies, and evaporating retail sales, has crashed onto campuses. The undertow of pension commitments will follow.

Universities that rely heavily on income from large endowments, U.S. Ivy League universities among them, have suffered significantly as invested funds have given up 30 per cent or more of their paper value. Others, with more modest endowments conservatively invested, have suffered less.

McGill can count itself among the latter, but that doesn’t mean the University hasn’t felt the sting of losses or the worry of uncertain funding from government and philanthropy. The University is already moving to a zero-deficit position by 2011, so the challenges posed by a 20 per cent reduction in the paper value of the endowment (from about $920 million to $740 million) loom that much larger.

What’s to be done? PATFTDEU. Employing what may be the most ungainly acronym in McGill history, Provost Anthony Masi has launched the Provost’s Administrative Task Force on Dealing with Economic Uncertainty.

“It is incumbent upon us to do everything that we can to face the challenges, while sustaining research and pedagogical quality and excellence in the short term and enhancing McGill’s competitive advantage in the longer term,” states a summary of the task force terms of reference finalized last week.

“The main goal … will be to identify … potential changes that are in alignment with strategic priorities and which are aimed at improving fiscal management and responsibility across the McGill community. This will be achieved by soliciting and evaluating proposals … on how to spend less without cutting the quality or level of services.”

The task force, numbering 21 and including senior administration, faculty, staff and students, will hold Town Hall-style meetings to solicit views on many topics: energy, travel and entertainment, business efficiencies, enrolment strategy, compensation, academic and staff renewal programs, and other potential cost saving measures and revenue generating initiatives. Principal Heather Munroe-Blum will co-host the Town Halls.

While it will strive to contribute ideas for the 2010 budget, the task force’s work will extend beyond the next budget until November, when it will prepare a report for the Principal due Jan. 15, 2010.

Town Halls on the Task Force have been scheduled for Feb. 12 (232 Leacock, noon to 1:30); Feb. 16 (Jack Cram Auditorium in Faculty of Education, noon to 1:30); March 2 (MBA Lounge, Bronfman Building, noon to 1:30 and Macdonald Campus, Raymond 2-045, 3 to 4:30). A task force website will be up shortly.