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The Power of Knowledge

Response to Daily editorial, Mar. 30th, 2011

By Heather Munroe-Blum

As Principal and as an academic, I fully disagree with your editorial of March 28, “McGill should cut ties with Hebrew University.”

Your suggestion that our participation in a program focusing on human rights and diversity could exacerbate the plight of the Palestinian people is without foundation. Your inability to separate geopolitical issues from knowledge-based research projects conducted by respected scholars is evidence of clouded vision.

McGill is a globally focused university that engages around the world with a multi-dimensional mosaic of international universities, networks of brilliant researchers and individual academics, and gifted students. We are an integral part of humankind’s building out of knowledge and discovery that transcends specific political situations, promotes human understanding, and advances the civilizing power of knowledge.

I fail to see what would be gained by extinguishing promising research between McGill and Hebrew University on issues of food safety and water management (along with a resulting joint project in Kenya). How could shutting down a joint research project in the emerging field of epigenetics, in which McGill is a world leader, help anyone?

Some students have expressed concern about a summer program in Law that will focus on human rights and diversity – themes on which McGill has historically led and supported with unrelenting commitment. It is this view – that we should avoid engaging with any scholars on such important issues – that every member of the McGill community should find most troubling.

Our own experience of diversity and human rights, in Quebec, and in Canada broadly, is different from the experience in Israel – as is the experience of diversity and human rights in China, India, France, or the United States. Building academic engagements in which McGill’s scholars have the opportunity to share their knowledge and their experience is an essential step in our continuing effort to promote the values that McGill holds most dear.

The suggestion that McGill cease to engage with another bona fide university – any bona fide university – because of political controversy in that university’s geo-political environment, goes against everything McGill stands for. It suggests a cowardice that I, as Principal of this great university, categorically reject.

Heather Munroe-Blum is Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill.