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McGill may be one of Canada's premier universities, but that doesn't mean the place and its people can't continue to innovate. That was the central message delivered to 200 managers on November 12, during the Management Forum Fourth Annual Conference, "Planning and Planning Tools for the Future."
The event, held at Redpath Hall, covered everything from the university's budgetary concerns to managing stress. McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum opened with a segment entitled, "Institutional Strategies: Vision, achievements, goals and challenges for the year ahead."
She said that McGill plans to enhance its international reputation and build on its recent distinction as Canada's leading public research university. How? "By focusing on our teaching and learning, our research and scholarship," she said. "We can't afford or manage to do all that we would like, or that may be needed. But our choices will focus on McGill signatures: quality in teaching, research, services to students and faculty, quality programs, impact and profile."
A new position of associate vice-principal (communications) has been created to further promote the university and broaden its public relations impact. "McGill has high aspirations and we wish to tell our story with pride," Munroe-Blum said.
McGill has an ambitious agenda for the future, which includes the continued hiring of at least 100 professors per year. "These new faculty will influence the shape of the university through the 21st century," Munroe-Blum said.
Faculties are being encouraged to boost applications for competitions, prizes and awards. The university is also bolstering research support and library collections, updating its information systems and streamlining its financial processes.
Munroe-Blum underlined that recent negotiations with the MUNACA bargaining unit over increased days at work, for instance, were necessary to ensure McGill's future strength and in an increasingly competitive environment. "We need to devise new action strategies to meet new needs and new challenges in the very dynamic environment in which universities work," she said, adding that non-academic staff are critical to the university's success.
Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Morty Yalovsky talked about planning, budgeting and resource allocation. The university is currently investigating ways to counter chronic underfunding from the provincial government and correct the "McGill Factor," he said. "There appears to be a willingness to talk at the Ministry of Education."
Yalovsky said there are other sources to augment finances if tuition fees can't be raised: "Fundraising is one option, or investing revenues from discoveries."
Yalovsky said McGill's current debt load is about $16 million, compared to a recent high of $80 million. "We are asking ourselves, 'What is the level of debt that the university is willing to undertake?'"
The key to securing McGill's financial future is through efficient resource allocation, Yalovsky stressed, which is why the university is completing its first "Campus Master Plan" that will comprise space audits. "What available space do we have and what is its potential for utilization?" he asked. "What is the potential development or redevelopment of the campus? Are we using our space efficiently?"
Performance dialogue agreements, where managers set out their goals, were also launched this year to enhance administrative success. Ditto for new educational development initiatives, from seminars to French courses. Everyone from departmental chairs to clerical staff will get the training they need, Yalovsky said.
Technological updates at the university were reviewed by Gary Bernstein, director of Network and Communication Services (NCS). He promised all managers will soon be outfitted with Microsoft Outlook programs that will provide blessed "out-of-office" replies to emails.
Now that the university's central server has been upgraded, Bernstein said, Meridian voice mail has been retired and replaced with unified messaging, meaning all staffers will be able to sort faxes, voice mails and emails through one work station.
"You will become the managers of your own messages and prioritize," he said.
Bernstein proudly noted all public areas at McGill are now wireless zones. Another NCS innovation is the use of digital cameras in monitored public spaces. "We no longer use tapes," he explained. "Digital cameras are now linked to a central security backbone."
Those begging for filters to avoid countless spam messages in their inboxes, Bernstein said, must learn how to independently filter. "We could have an exquisite filter," he mused. "Unfortunately, filtering out everything with the word penis would block out correspondences from our researchers who study so many areas of the penis world."
During a segment on managing stress, psychiatry professor Gerald Wiviott said managers constantly strive to create order in a world of contingency. "That would be like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up the hill," he said, noting the way to inner calm is to relax and prioritize interpersonal relationships.
The November 25 Second Annual Town Hall Meeting organized by the administration and support staff representatives on Senate will be covered in the next issue of the Reporter.