Senate kicks off with tributes to departing Principal

Tributes to a departing Principal and a departing Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) dominated the early part of the last Senate meeting of the academic year Wednesday.
Photo: John Kelsey

By McGill Reporter Staff

Tributes to a departing Principal and a departing Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) dominated the early part of the last Senate meeting of the academic year Wednesday.

Both Dean of Science Martin Grant and Provost Anthony C. Masi lauded the outgoing Heather Munroe-Blum, who was chairing her last Senate meeting before her second term ends on June 30.

“There is a resonance over the years as we reflect upon our Principal’s academic legacy,” Grant said in prepared remarks. “A century after [William] Dawson’s time, McGill retains our long-standing strengths, embodied for example by our exceptional students, but we have been enormously changed and strengthened by an unprecedented academic renewal of high-quality faculty in targeted areas of strength and aspiration.

“We are now at a place we have not been at for over a century through many people’s work, but particularly through Heather’s leadership.”

Grant spoke of Munroe-Blum’s preference as an administrator to “carry some weight on her shoulders” and to make her case based on hard, rational arguments.

“Heather has brought us here through her courageous commitment, her youth and charisma, her consistent and disciplined faith in rational arguments, her overarching belief in the necessity of excellence, of achievement being deeply recognized and rewarded, and finally and fundamentally, the necessity of ambition in the service of our institution,” Grant said. “Now, notwithstanding current challenges, we have every reason to believe we are on track to enter a new golden age of our institution, parallel to that of a century ago. If we prepare for less, we will surely achieve that. If we prepare for success, and we are steadfast, we will achieve that instead, despite these difficult times.”

Student Senator Haley Dinel also praised Munroe-Blum for having steered the university “through troubling and calm waters,” and cited the accomplishments of her two Task Forces (on Student Life and Learning and on Diversity, Excellence and Community Engagement). “She has led us through some difficult, sometimes frustrating conversations,” Dinel said.

Then it was Masi’s turn to praise the person with whom he has worked perhaps more closely than all other senior administrators over the last 10½ years.

He spoke of the outgoing Principal’s work ethic and performance as Chair of Senate over the years.

Speaking directly to Munroe-Blum, he said, “You have challenged this governing body to step up to its responsibilities to discuss topics that affect the academic and research mission of this great University; you have revitalized the Joint Senate-Board meeting agendas so that they always reflect a teaching moment that is bi-directional … you have insisted on the importance of courtesy and respect in all interactions; you have been willing to experiment with new ways of doing the business of the Senate yet, you have cherished, protected and enhanced time-honored traditions.”

He also spoke of Munroe-Blum setting high expectations and requiring that the University measure itself against its peers.

“You have trusted the collective wisdom of this body even when it was not your initial instinct,” he said, “and finally, you have interrupted, cut short, or found the need to correct nearly every report that I have made to Senate, for which I thank you!”

Masi ended on a touching note, citing Munroe-Blum’s expressions of compassion in times of personal need.

“McGill will never be the same because of you,” he said. “McGill will never be the same without you.”

Munroe-Blum thanked those who offered tributes, having said earlier in the Senate meeting she had been generously welcomed at McGill when she began in January 2003, “maybe nowhere more warmly than at Senate.”

She said the last decade has been time of “really exceptional achievement for the University and for the Senate and the Board of Governors,” adding not a day has gone by “when I didn’t feel a deep sense of pride” at being Principal of McGill.

Munroe-Blum reflected on “how many ingredients go into making McGill McGill,” citing outstanding students, excellent support staff and faculty.

Of the six research-intensive universities with which she has been affilitated over the years, Munroe-Blum said, “this is the only one of the six where the norm is not to say ‘what about me?’ but the norm is to work collaboratively.”

Munroe-Blum and Masi also paid tribute to Morton Mendelson (Deputy Provost, Student Life and Learning), who was also attending his last Senate meeting before his term comes to an end in late August. A successor has not yet been named.

Munroe-Blum praised Mendelson’s “extraordinary leadership and experience” and his ability, as the first Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) to assemble “a wonderful team of people” devoted to providing better student services.

Masi, citing Mendelson’s “incalculable contribution” to McGill, also noted his “history of integrity, honesty and good judgment. …The portfolio is vast and deep and at the core of the University” and Mendelson, he said, has been “a determined advocate for students.

“If you wore a numbered jersey instead of your impeccably tailored suits,” Masi told Mendelson, “I’d be asking Senate to retire that jersey.”

In brief remarks thanking Masi and Munroe-Blum for their comments, Mendelson said he was very happy to have participated in Senate for more than a dozen years at McGill.

To read the text of Martin Grants tribute to the Principal, click here.