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Highlights from April 29 Board of Governors meeting

Dear members of the McGill community:

McGill’s Board of Governors convened on Tuesday, April 29, 2014.  As I do after each meeting, I am writing to share highlights of the actions and discussions. 

Michael Di Grappa, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance), and I began the closed session with an update on McGill’s potential acquisition of the soon-to-be-vacant Royal Victoria Hospital site. As Vice-Principal Di Grappa has previously discussed, this 111,000 square metres of real estate could offset the downtown campus’s chronic space deficit. This vast undertaking, however, must be financially viable and cannot constrain our abilities to sustain and grow our core mission. McGill has already done several preliminary studies. We are awaiting decisions from the Quebec Government to commence a more detailed feasibility study later this year.

During my open session remarks, I focused on three areas:

  • Government relations: We are fortunate that Premier Philippe Couillard has a deep understanding of the importance of universities, and are happy to see that three McGill grads have prominent positions in his cabinet. Until a budget is tabled, however, there remain several uncertainties, including whether the new government will modify its predecessor’s commitment to reinvest nearly $1.8 billion in universities in the next four years. Irrespective of the change in government, Quebec’s finances remain challenging. Given that the Bureau de coopération interuniversitaire, formerly CREPUQ, no longer has an advocacy mandate, McGill needs to work even more closely with other universities on joint advocacy initiatives.
  • Research ethics:  McGill’s Regulations on the Conduct of Research are set for triennial review in 2014 under the leadership of the Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations). A working group composed of faculty members, students, and staff will specifically address ethical values in partnership-driven research. The review process will include consultation with the wider McGill community. We anticipate the review to take approximately one year. This is a good example of members of our own community alerting us to a gap in our policies and playing an instrumental role in launching an important initiative.
  • University organizations: I reported on recent meetings of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) and the Association of American Universities (AAU). The theme of the AUCC’s annual meeting was “The New West, the New Canada” and there was much discussion on Aboriginal education. The AAU’s meeting was held in Washington, D.C. One topic of particular interest to McGill was the need to clarify the role of universities in technology transfer. While in Washington, I also participated in an American Association for the Advancement of Science workshop on global research.

I finished my remarks by congratulating members of McGill’s community who recently achieved major recognition for their accomplishments. Eight more McGill researchers were appointed to the federal Canada Research Chair program, and four of our existing CRCs were renewed, making for a total of more than $11 million in new research funding over the next five to seven years. Principal Emerita Heather Munroe-Blum recently received the Public Policy Forum’s Testimonial Dinner Award, in recognition of her work in higher education and science, technology and innovation public policy. The Public Policy Forum also honoured two McGill alumnae, Sheila Fraser and Erin Freeland Ballantyne. On a final note, I reminded the Board about the McGill Alumni Association Honours & Awards Banquet, to be held on May 8th. The banquet recognizes graduates and friends who have made a particularly significant impact on alumni and University life.

The Board approved Provost Tony Masi’s budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year. The Provost noted that we are on track to close the current fiscal year with an anticipated $10.4-million deficit, and projects a $7-million deficit for the close of next year, but stressed the ongoing uncertainty surrounding government funding, given that a new provincial budget has yet to be tabled. The complete Budget Book 2014-2015 will be available online later this month; in the meantime, you can read highlights here.

I presented to the Board, for their input, the vision and five priorities, with corresponding actions, which were shared earlier this year with the campus and alumni community.

Six committees and bodies presented reports. Items of interest to the broader McGill community include: 

  • The Nominating, Governance and Ethics Committee (NGEC) put forth its unanimous recommendation to appoint H. Arnold Steinberg to the rank of Chancellor Emeritus, effective July 1, 2014. The Board also approved the NGEC’s recommendations for membership on Advisory Committees to select a new Provost and a new Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Provost Masi and Dean Chandra Madramooto will finish their respective five-year terms on June 30, 2015. You can read more details about the Provost’s selection process here.
  • The Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility is reviewing its terms of reference to take into account recent public consultations.
  • The Executive Committee authorized McGill University to launch a competitive tender for the provision of food services over a four-year period.
  • The Investment Committee approved a change to the McGill Investment Portfolio, reducing the equity component while implementing a corresponding increase to the fixed income allocation. This change will protect recent gains made in the equity markets, while better managing future risks.
  • The Joint Meeting of Senate Steering and Executive Committees submitted a topic for next year’s joint Board-Senate meeting: “Strengthening McGill’s Engagement with the External Community.” The meeting is tentatively scheduled for November 2014.
  • Senate reported that it has approved the Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Enhancement of Senate Meetings. Some of the enhancements are similar to those adopted by the Board of Governors.

Ollivier Dyens, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), presented a report stemming from last November’s Joint Board-Senate Meeting on mental health initiatives. He outlined how McGill is working to improve its community’s well-being, including a dramatic reduction in wait times for mental health assistance and a new checklist that provides advising services specific to different stages of a student’s studies. Teaching and Learning Services is currently developing this checklist, which should be available to students in late spring of this year.

The Deputy Provost also presented his annual Report on the Implementation of McGill University’s Strategic Enrolment Management Plan. SEM aims to identify, address, and position McGill within emerging regional and international trends in post-secondary education.

The full minutes from the February 27th open session of the Board, plus a summary of the closed session, are now online; the minutes from this week’s meeting will be available shortly after the Board approves them on May 22nd, which will be their final meeting of 2013-2014.

As always, I welcome your questions, comments and ideas, which you can send to me at suzanne [dot] fortier [at] mcgill [dot] ca. I hope that your semester went well and that you can soon enjoy some well-deserved relaxation.  

Sincerely,

Suzanne Fortier

Principal and Vice-Chancellor