Principal to Senate: Expect more cuts

Posted on Thursday, January 24, 2013

Photo: John Kelsey

By Jim Hynes

The sixth Senate meeting of the academic year and the first of the winter term featured some brisk news about government relations and the University’s financial situation befitting the sub-zero temperatures outside.

Principal Heather Munroe-Blum explained that the University could not accept the retroactive budget cuts to universities of some $124 million announced last December, which translate to more than $19 million for McGill for the months left in the current fiscal year. She reiterated the position taken by the Board of Governors at its meeting of December 13, 2012:

“It is simply not possible to cut our budget by $19 million by the end of April without adversely affecting our programs, our operations and fundamentally the quality of the University and our ability to meet our academic responsibilities. McGill’s administration has come to the conclusion that we’re not in the position to responsibly accept retroactive cuts.”

But, Munroe-Blum said, while meeting with Quebec officials, including Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology Pierre Duchesne in preparation for the February 25-26 government-organized Summit on Higher Education, McGill and other universities learned that more cuts are around the corner, cuts that may ultimately prove more difficult to avoid.

“We received firm signals that cuts will remain in place and that there is more to come. In addition to operating grant cuts we’ve been informed, as many of you will have read, of significant cuts to the three Quebec granting councils and it is clear that other envelopes of funding on which we depend will also be cut,” she said.

“Last Thursday, Minister Duchesne confirmed that we will face further cuts in 2013-14, though the amount has not yet been described. The Minister declared that we have to live through a period of 18 months where we can’t expect any kind of reinvestment, and subsequently there has been an indication that it will be longer than 18 months.

“While we are committed to accountability and we are committed to working productively with the government in every way we can, we also must stay the course on not taking these retroactive cuts within this academic year – it simply would be damaging and irresponsible to do so,” Munroe-Blum said.

“But the fact is that we are very unlikely to avoid facing cuts in the base operating budget of the University in the coming year and perhaps a year beyond that. That requires that we will have to take difficult decisions about how to implement these cuts without sacrificing quality and accessibility and having a strong community engagement on how we do that as we move.”

The Chair’s Remarks portion of the meeting, which was streamed live over the Internet to the McGill community, also saw the Principal call on Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration) Michael Di Grappa to update Senate on the proposal for a Protocol Regarding Demonstrations, Protests and Occupations.

“As a result of that broader consultation process, we concluded that the preamble of the proposed protocol was generally well received,” Di Grappa said. “As a result of the ongoing deliberations of the Provost and myself, we have also concluded that McGill would be best served by first establishing a Statement of Values on Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly.

“This statement, which will be based on the preamble of the proposed protocol, will provide the over-arching framing of our response, both as a community and as the administration, to events and activities in the future. We will invite broad consultation on it before it is brought to Senate and Board for final deliberation later this spring.”

Di Grappa also said a document outlining Operational Procedures will be circulated to the community at the same time as the Statement of Values. The procedures document will serve as guidelines for responses to events and activities in the future.

In answer to a question, Di Grappa told Senator Haley Dinel that while McGill could make good use of space in the Royal Victoria Hospital, once its operations move to the MUHC’s Glen campus, it’s not a simple matter. There are questions about who owns the hospital site and questions about how much it would cost to renovate and maintain.

“Our studies indicate that the priority space needs of the University, in a number of faculties in support of teaching and research as well as increased residence capacity, could be served by the space available in the Royal Victoria Hospital complex, particularly due to its location immediately adjacent to the downtown campus,” Di Grappa said.

But while the space would be suitable for alleviating some space needs, Di Grappa said, there are others for which the hospital would not be the best solution. Furthermore, any renovations that would need to be undertaken would require significant investment.

“Before a decision is made on whether McGill will seek to obtain this space, opportunities for financial support for the acquisition and renovation costs are being pursued and a business plan is under development to determine whether we can support the operations of the facilities over time,” he said.

Provost Anthony Masi, Dinel, and Professor Graham Bell led a lively Open Discussion on McGill’s Innovative Learning Environments, where the pros and cons of getting McGill involved in massive open online courses (MOOCs) were debated.

Other Senate business included the approval of the 443rd Report of the Academic Policy Committee, presented by Masi, and of Amendments to the University Student Assessment Policy, presented by Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson.

Annual Reports were also presented on Student Life and Learning (Deputy Provost Mendelson), Enrolment (University Registrar and Executive Director (Enrolment Services) Kathleen Massey) and by Ombudsperson for Students Spencer Boudreau.

All those documents may be found here.

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