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Post-holiday slimming has hit McGill, but not in the usual mind-your-calories way. The university's board of governors has been whittled from a hefty 45 members down to a sleek 25 as of January 1. Now McGill's lean, mean, deliberating machine will act more effectively than ever.
In consultations starting in 2003 with the board, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum and the board's chair, Robert Rabino-vitch, discovered that many members felt the governing body wasn't working as well as it should.
The first step taken to improve the situation was looking at the numbers. With 45 members the proceedings could get unwieldy at times, and 25 is in keeping with comparable boards of universities or businesses (for instance, Université de Montréal functions with 24 members).
The new board consists of the chancellor, the principal and vice-chancellor, 12 members-at-large, three representatives from the alumni association, two each from the academic staff and administrative/support staff, two senate representatives and two student representatives (one from the Students' Society of McGill University and one from the Post-Graduate Students' Society). There are two further student reps who can attend and participate in meetings but who do not have a vote — one each from the Macdonald Campus Students' Society and the McGill Association of Continuing Education Students.
Under the new structure, governors emeriti will no longer have either voice or vote. The SSMU president no longer has a special status on the new board. The secretary-general manages the functioning of the board and maintains the official records.
The governors emeriti will now meet twice each year with the principal, vice-principals, chancellor, secretary-general and chair. In fact, such meetings have been held for the past year and a half. Emeriti will serve five-year terms, after which they earn honorary governor emeritus status.
Since the decision was made to reduce the board, some members' terms concluded and others left for reasons to do with life circumstances. So by the time January 1 rolled around, the original 25 members-at-large had undergone a natural attrition to 12. The transition could have been fraught with tension, but as Secretary-General Robin Geller said, "It happened by magic. People stepped forward saying it was a good idea to have new blood. Literally, no tough decisions had to be made." The reduction in size through attrition was also achieved for the administrative and support staff as well as for the representatives of the Alumni Association. New elections were held for the senate representatives on the board as well as the faculty-at-large.
But the changes to the board comprise more than just seats. Geller says they wanted to make the board proceedings truly "meaty and substantive." Meetings went from being two hours long to three, and still take place six times a year. They are no longer held in Leacock 232, an odd, low-ceilinged room with seats in curved rows facing the front. Now the board members face each other in a hollow square format, with name cards propped in front of them. This helps members engage with each other as a group and have more meaningful dialogue. The university has streamlined the agenda, too, so they're not spending time on matters that can be dispensed with at a committee level.
Committees have also changed. The former audit and finance committee has split into two, and a human resources committee was created for personnel issues of senior administrators and staff. Academic personnel issues fall under the executive committee. Board members are expected to sit on at least one standing committee, and regulations on procedure have finally been codified.
The university has also implemented annual retreats and a proper orientation for new members. Geller says that annual individual and group evaluations will be put into place, which is common practice for good boards.
Other than the parking space on campus, what benefits do board members enjoy? After all, they devote hours and hours of unpaid time on their duties and lend their considerable expertise to McGill gratis. Geller says they do so because "they love the institution, they want to give to McGill. They feel it's important to contribute to a critical part of Montreal, and to university life in Canada."
For more info, see www.mcgill.ca/boardofgovernors