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McGill's Board of Governors is shrinking. The Board will be reducing its numbers from 45 to 25 members as of January 1, 2005. This is part of a major restructuring of one of McGill's two key governance bodies. Much of the work behind the initiative has been carried out by Robin Geller, McGill's Secretary-General, responsible for the Secretariat. Geller, who joined McGill in 1995, will be leaving the university in February to prepare the family to join her husband, who has recently accepted a position in England. She recently talked about the impending changes to the Board of Governors and the impact on the university.
What was the impetus behind the decision to reduce the number of members of the Board of Governors?
To create a more effective decision-making body that will better serve the university in carrying out its mission. In consultations undertaken by Principal Munroe-Blum and Robert Rabinovitch, Chair of the Board, many Board members expressed deep and long-standing concerns that the Board was not functioning as effectively as it could — and should — be. Part of the reason for this was attributed to the Board's large size — 45 members and 22 governors emeriti. In addition to reducing the size of the Board, Board members also made a series of other recommendations for enhancing governance processes. All changes are designed to ensure that this restructured Board is fully engaged and focused on key issues, such as strategic long-term planning and the university's financial health, which in turn ensures that sound and informed decisions are being made.
Who will sit on the restructured Board?
The Board will comprise 12 members-at-large, three members from the McGill Alumni Association, two from full-time academic staff, two from administrative and support staff, one from the Student's Society of McGill University, one from the Post-Graduate Students' Society and two from Senate. The Principal and Chancellor sit ex officio. In addition to these 25 members, the new Board will also have two observers — one each from the Macdonald Campus Students' Society and the McGill Association of Continuing Education Students. These two student representatives will have a voice, but will not vote at meetings of the Board.
Who is driving this change and what is the timeline for Board restructuring?
The change has been initiated by the Chair of the Board of Governors and Principal Munroe-Blum, but, as I mentioned, with considerable support from most Board members, including McGill's Chancellor, Richard Pound. A small Governance Review Group was established in the early stages of the review process to develop recommendations to present to the Board. The Governance Review Group is composed of the Principal, the Chair of the Board and the Secretary-General. Throughout the process, formal and informal consultations have taken place with Senate, individual Board members, students, administrative and support staff and others. The changes to the size of the Board were approved at the meeting of the Board of Governors on May 25, 2004, and will come into effect on January 1, 2005.
Why is this initiative important to the University?
The review of the functioning of the Board of Governors is part of an overall effort to improve governance at McGill. The first phase involved the review of the size of the Board. The second key phase is the review of the terms of reference, composition and membership of Board committees. This process is well underway and proposed changes will be voted upon at the meeting of the Board of Governors on December 13, 2004. At the same time, significant revisions to the "Signing Authority Regulations" are being proposed. The net impact of this series of changes will result in a far better distinction between governance on the one hand, and administration on the other. It will ensure that members of the Board have the opportunity to provide meaningful input and approval to fiduciary matters, matters related to long-term strategic planning and policy matters. The members of the administration will assume appropriate responsibility for operational and administrative issues.
Can you give some examples of decisions that the Board of Governors makes that have a direct impact on faculty, staff and students?
The single most important decision taken by the Board each year is the approval of the budget. The budget is presented for approval by the Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) and reflects the planning and priorities identified by the administration for the coming year. In fact, when the budget was approved for 2004—2005, the Board also approved a series of principles underlying the budget model, including a framework for multi-year budgeting. This significant departure from past practice will allow the university to embark on a more ambitious plan for its own future — investing now in order to realize longer-term improvements in the quality of teaching and research at McGill.
Two other recent examples of Board decisions that have had a significant impact on the university were the approval of the purchase of the new residence building and the approval of the debenture that provided the funding for the purchase of that building, as well as other major capital expenditures. The Board also approves — either directly or through delegated authority — the hiring of all staff, the granting of tenure and the promotion to the rank of full professor and professor emeritus.