McGill Medal to honour exceptional careers of retiring professors

Recto FinalEmeriti selection process revamped

By McGill Reporter Staff

With the closing of the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games on Feb. 28, it has been more than two months since medal counts actually mattered. Until now – with the imminent announcement of the first recipients of the inaugural “McGill Medal for Exceptional Academic Achievement.”

The McGill Medal will be awarded at Spring Convocation to recognize retired members of the academic staff who have made truly extraordinary contributions to their discipline, to McGill or to scholarship, over the course of their academic careers. This new recognition is part of a significant change in the way in which McGill will now confer the title “emeritus” upon retiring full professors, moving that status from a “promotion in rank” to an “honorific.”

The 2009 Convocations marked the last time that retiring full professors were award a promotion to emeritus. The process for nomination and consideration (departmental, Faculty, and University committees) for that distinction was rigorous and given the very stringent adjudication criteria, few retiring full professors were selected. “McGill was somewhat anomalous in comparison with peer institutions in that so few retiring full professors were getting emeritus status,” said Prof. Anthony C. Masi, McGill’s Provost. “Becoming a full professor at McGill already involves a Statutory Selection Committee, external referees, adjudication by a subcommittee and then the full Honorary Degrees and Convocations Committee, and then consideration by Senate and the Board of Governors.”

Beginning with convocations this spring, McGill has altered guidelines and procedures for awarding the emeritus title and it will be more in line with other research-intensive universities around the world. Now, retiring full professors can be conferred the emeritus honorific upon recommendation of their Chair and/or Dean to the Provost, who will make the final determination.

“This decision reflects a careful deliberations and the fact that at McGill becoming a full professor is not routine and is already a significant achievement,” said Masi.

But Masi was quick to point out that the decision begged the question: given the new emeritus guidelines, how will the University now be able to acknowledge individuals who, during the course of their career, rose well above McGill’s already high expectations?

“We thought there was an important statement to be made by the McGill community in recognizing and rewarding truly exceptional achievement and that this should be highlighted in a special way,” said Masi. “So that at the end of their formal academic career at McGill, if retiring full professors have made a truly exceptional contribution to academic life – and again, we have very high standards here – we should celebrate it. The Deans’ recommendation was that we do so with a McGill Medal.”

But the Provost also made it clear that while the adjudication process for the McGill Medal parallels the old process for promotion to emeritus, the bar has been raised significantly so that to be awarded a McGill Medal is really very different than the old emeritus status.

“Under the old system, one retiring professor out of three or four got the emeritus designation. Medal winners will be closer to one in 10 or even 20 – the top three to five per cent of the retiring cohort,” said Masi. “We are setting an extremely high bar and this will be an particularly exclusive group. Indeed, given the criteria, just being nominated is itself a real distinction and winning a fantastic honour. Of course, having such individuals at McGill honours us all.”

The names of the inaugural recipients of the “McGill Medal for Exceptional Academic Achievement” will be announced in the special Honorary Degree issue of the McGill Reporter on May 20.