Yesterday’s News: Winter 1989-90

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When he was principal of McGill in the late 1980s, Canada’s newly appointed governor general figured in testy tuition discussions with the province. The winter 1989/90 edition of the News noted that David Johnston had begun speaking out against a provincial funding formula, which, along with unrealistically low tuition fees of under $600, had put McGill in a financial bind. The University’s accumulated deficit at the time amounted to $54 million.

An annual shortfall of $16 million in provincial grants relative to other Quebec universities, meant that, despite austerity measures, McGill’s situation worsened every year. The University’s fundraising success led to the perception of McGill as a “rich” institution, when in reality, private funding became crucial in managing the deficit. Basing his arguments on the government’s own financial studies acknowledging McGill’s underfunding, Johnston firmly lobbed the ball into province’s court. Ultimately the funding formula was equalized, and over time, McGill’s ballooning deficit was eliminated, although Quebec tuition remains well below the Canadian average.

The News reported on the fifth International AIDS Conference, as 12,000 delegates streamed into Montreal to attend “one of the most tumultuous and eventful meetings in recent history.” Irrational fear still surrounded the disease and sufferers were being shunned, fired, evicted and assaulted, a situation so acute that half of the conference was devoted to the “social challenges” of AIDS.

McGill researchers from the Faculty of Medicine and the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law helped organize the conference, in addition to contributing papers and chairing discussions. Their input was critical as almost all of the HIV/AIDS research in Canada at the time was centred around McGill. In fact, every Canadian clinical trial had been conducted at a McGill-affiliated hospital and Dr. Mark Wainberg, BSc’66, was already considered the country’s leading basic scientist in the field.

Kate McGarrigle, BSc'69, says her world got bigger during her time at McGill

Two women who graduated 40 years apart were profiled, discussing how their time at McGill allowed them to be non-conformists and shaped their futures. Muriel (Ball) Duckworth, BA’29, LLD’84, became a political firebrand, while Kate McGarrigle, BSc’69, made musical performance a family affair.

Duckworth learned through McGill’s Student Christian Movement to question her traditional beliefs – “I went to university believing every word in the Bible” – and found the process “agonizing” because she had never doubted before. She graduated with strong convictions and a skeptical view of conventional wisdom. Duckworth became a committed pacifist, serving as the National President of Voice of Women which protested vigorously against the war in Vietnam. A lifelong advocate for women’s issues, her numerous honours included the Order of Canada, the Pearson Medal of Peace and 10 honorary degrees.

McGarrigle had come from a strongly Catholic background, but had become a skeptic much sooner. In high school she had little respect for her teachers, “a particularly stupid order of nuns,” and found McGill exhilarating. “My first day at McGill, I had Africans in my classes with facial scars from tribal markings – this was so exotic. I was overwhelmed by seeing people who came from all these other tribes.” McGarrigle described her McGill experience as broadening, saying it gave her “the confidence to thumb my nose at people and write songs regardless of what they might think.”

Kate and sister Anna performed some of those nose-thumbing numbers in September at Invitation ’89, McGill’s triennial open house. Despite cold temperatures and torrential rain that accompanied the tail end of Hurricane Hugo, the McGarrigle sisters played to a tentful of appreciative listeners who demanded three encores.

by Diana Grier-Ayton

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