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Response to the cuts

A message from Principal Heather Munroe-Blum
December 14, 2012

Dear members of the McGill community,

Following discussions between the senior administration and the broader McGill community, and the decision of the Board of Governors last evening, I write to inform you of McGill’s response to the $19.1 million retroactive cut to its operating grant, announced last week by the Government of Quebec.

These enforced cuts come in the context of McGill’s multiyear academic and budget planning activities to sustain quality education, research and service. Over the last five years, through prudent and strategic planning, McGill has trimmed expenditures to reallocate $37 million to core priorities, through cuts to operating expenses, deferred salary increases, and a 3 percent salary cut across the senior administration in 2009. The Strategic Reframing Initiative has been modernizing administrative practices, and the Workforce Planning project is underway to position the University to be more efficient and to manage responsibly the significant demographic shift leading to increased departures and retirements.

Despite these measures, and as a direct result of the chronic and significant underfunding of Quebec’s universities relative to their Canadian and American peers, the 2012-13 budget, approved by the Board of Governors last March (and which reflected the Government’s commitments), included a $7 million deficit. Any additional reductions at short notice will affect our core mission and will undermine our contributions to Quebec. Indeed, a 2010 SECOR study showed that every dollar the Quebec government invested in McGill brought a return to the Quebec economy of $13. McGill’s impact on the Quebec economy totals $5.2 billion per year.

Wherever possible, we have reduced our expenses. The quality of our management has been reflected in McGill’s credit ratings and its high academic performance compared to peers that are funded dramatically better than McGill. To take but one area, we have increased student financial aid significantly, and grown our funding packages for top graduate students. Total undergraduate student funding from McGill doubled from 2003-04 to 2011-12, and undergraduate bursaries for students in financial need now total 3 ½ times what they were in 2003-04. One in four McGill students is the first in their family to attend university or has parents who do not hold university degrees.

A gap still remains in our ability to support every qualified student financially. Our infrastructure is in need of dramatic reinvestment. Our compensation for professors, in particular, does not adequately reflect their quality and competitiveness. Our student-faculty ratios are suffering. In a world where other jurisdictions are increasing their investments in research, where knowledge and discovery drive the strength of nations, Quebec’s investments in universities are diminishing.

Our employees have dedicated themselves to the excellence and impact of McGill’s teaching, research and service, and I thank you for continuing to put McGill first, notwithstanding the challenges we face. But there is a limit to our ability to fulfill our mission within a context of unprecedented regulatory constraint, a significant devaluing of post-secondary education and university research by government, and, increasingly strong post-secondary priority and investment elsewhere. At a time when Quebec faces overwhelming economic and demographic challenges, we cannot afford to have our top students, researchers and professors leave Quebec because they cannot use their talents here. The competition for great talent, worldwide, is very steep.

Imposing retroactive cuts are not the solution.

Prior to the Board meeting of last night, members of the senior administration discussed the newly imposed financial scenario with professors and representatives of other employee and student associations. Following discussion at the Board, the Board unanimously passed the following resolution:

BE IT RESOLVED
that the Board of Governors of McGill University deplores the cuts in provincial funding to universities and research granting councils announced by the Minister on December 6 as both excessive and injurious to the core mission of research universities in Quebec, and injurious to Quebec society as a whole, and it insists that the proposed retroactive cuts be withdrawn and that the commitments to university funding that were in place at the time the Board approved the University’s 2012-13 budget, be fully restored.

We will be working hard to persuade the government to reverse the cuts. It is unrealistic to imagine that a top research-intensive university with a broad range of underfunded programs could make such cuts at all, to say nothing of doing so two-thirds of the way through its fiscal year.

The effect of taking such a cut would be to transfer a portion of the government’s deficit to the university system, while undermining dramatically the important educational, economic, research and social contributions of the University.

Let me reiterate here: McGill received absolutely no notice of any possible budget cut until last week’s meeting with the Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology. Indeed, all that any of us had heard previously was that the Government, while abandoning the previously committed increases in tuition fees, would keep the university system whole financially.

Of course, we will continue to be highly accountable to the publics we serve. We will also take every measure necessary to persuade the government to withdraw these harmful and ill-timed cuts and to give us the degrees of freedom we need to fulfill our mission – to serve Quebec and Quebecers at the highest level.

As we do so, I thank each of you, again, for your loyalty and commitment to our noble cause.

Yours sincerely,

 

Heather Munroe-Blum
Principal and Vice-Chancellor
McGill University