Senate: “Staying the course”

By Cynthia Lee

The global financial meltdown has focused minds everywhere and last week’s Senate meeting was no exception.

Principal Heather Munroe-Blum opened her remarks to Senate by addressing the financial crisis that has sent global stock markets into tailspins and brought unprecedented uncertainty to investment markets, and its effect on McGill. Notable areas of concern are philanthropy, the University’s endowment, pensions, and retention and enrolment.

Prof. Munroe-Blum described the financial crisis as “a situation evolving too rapidly to comment about,” but added that if McGill were to be compared with its peers, “I don’t believe there’s any reason to think we would weather the crisis less well.”

She noted that a number of signs indicate that McGill is in a better position than most. Prof. Munroe-Blum pointed to Quebec’s “diverse resource base” and the loyalty of McGill alumni and donors as good news. She said that during recent trips to New York and California, some major donors she met were dedicated to “staying the course” and that some had even accelerated their giving to Campaign McGill as they were assured, unlike other investments, of where their donations were going.

In addressing the endowment, the Principal spoke of McGill’s “conservative” investment approach.

In terms of recruitment, she said that McGill remains an attractive destination and that student enrolment typically increases in times of economic instability. Indeed, a front-page article in the New York Times a couple of days after the Senate meeting described in detail the difficulties many American families face trying to cope with university tuition payments at top-notch U.S. schools that are many times more than what students would pay were they to attend McGill.

“We’re being prudent. … We will have to make tougher decisions about where we place our revenues. … But we will stay the course in terms of setting priorities and continue to move economic plans forward even in these uncertain economic times. This is not the ’90s revisited, and not a time for retrenchment.”

Prof. Munroe-Blum said the University’s pension plan was an area of “vulnerability,” and she urged plan members to read advisories from the Pension Committee and to be responsible for their own investments.