Town Hall doubleheader

Principal and Provost hit downtown, Mac

By Neale McDevitt

In continuing effort to utilize McGill’s greatest asset – its brain power – Principal Heather Munroe Blum and Provost Tony Masi met with the McGill community twice (once downtown and again at Mac) on Monday to discuss all things economic. As with the two previous sessions, the pair met with a host of interesting ideas, comments and suggestions on how McGill could best weather the global financial storm.

Following brief opening remarks by both Munroe-Blum and Masi, in which people were assured by the Principal that “At McGill, people are our greatest assets… and it is not our intention, at least in first the instance, to look at major encroachments on our compliment of people as our first way of dealing with budgetary problems that we may face,” the floor was turned over to questions from the audience that had gathered in the MBA lounge of the Desautels Faculty of Management.

“I haven’t faced this kind of silence since I taught Introductory Statistics,” quipped Masi at the initial lack of questions. But the joke seemed to break the ice and what followed was an hour of healthy discussion.

When asked what the administration had learned from a similar economic crisis in the 1990s that forced McGill into making wholesale cuts, Masi was clear. “The big mistake and a very easy lesson learned is that we entered into the 1990s cutting horizontally – everybody was in the same boat. Today we have a plan and priorities that we are going to stick to.”

As has been the case with the previous meetings, the most interesting parts of the session were the suggestions from the audience on how McGill, or, in Masi’s own words “the business side of McGill, should be run like a business.”

“Everybody in the University tries to be entrepreneurial and I think that is costing us money,” Desautels professor Morty Yalovsky said. The former Vice-Principal (Administration & Finance) pointed to the University’s use of movers as an example. While McGill has contracts with moving companies, employees often hire someone else to do the work, thereby negating the advantage of the negociated contract. Yalovsky contended the same is true for such things as cell phones and printers.

Other money-saving ideas from the audience included wage freezes for faculty and administrative staff, phased retirement plans and the offer of unpaid vacation time. Also, it was suggested that the University better utilize its enormous alumni network by “doing a better job in sharing with others the good things that we’re doing here.”

When the topic of infrastructure funding was brought up, Masi said both the federal and provincial governments are working on programs to support infrastructure development. That, combined with Jim Nicell’s (Associate V-P University Services) extensive study on deferred maintenace, means that “on the physical side, people are going to see more progress than we’ve seen in years.

“But we need to find ways of supporting the programs we put inside those buildings.”