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8:25 am: I arrive at New Rez, register, pick up my name tag and head downstairs to the ballroom. Long tables stocked with fruit and baked goods greet me. The tiny saucers don't deter me, I engineer a delicious tower of croissants and danish, buttressed by sturdy orange segments and melon slices.
I almost make a wrong turn and enter the all-day Gene Diabetes Discovery seminar. These people look very, very smart. Phew. That was close.
8:27-8:35: I wander aimlessly trying to find my assigned table, #21. There is no apparent logic to the layout, as I finally stumble onto my destination flanked by tables #6 and #15. Watching others trying in vain to locate their table, I begin to suspect that there is someone watching us behind a one-way mirror, charting our progress. Timing us. A managerial rat maze, as it were, to weed out the dullards. I expect to receive an electric shock at any minute.
8:40-9:05: My tablemates all settle in. They all found their seat faster than I. I am envious. Introductions all around. People from Accounting, Liaison Office, Treasury, Health and Safety — a cross-section of McGill managers. I have already taken copious notes and am poised, pen in hand, to take more. They eye me suspiciously.
9:05-9:45: Psychology professor Richard Koestner talks about objectives and goal setting. He makes us laugh by listing his failed New Year's resolutions. He should feel lucky; I can't even be bothered to make such a list. Maybe that should be my first goal.
Koestner recommends setting only resolutions that strike a personal chord; far too often we are pressured by others to strive for certain goals. I think about my girlfriend's goals for me; like moving from the sofa at least once on NFL Sundays. I wonder if Koestner makes house calls; maybe he could talk some sense into her.
9:45-10:30: Marc Weinstein, assistant vice-principal, development and alumni relations and director of university campaigns, outlines the capital campaign, saying that the public campaign won't be in full gear until the end of 2006. Then it's five years of pedal-to-the-campaign-metal.
Managers, Weinstein says, are vital to the process because they are "in the trenches" and "nobody knows the school better." Even more important than the money raised among managers, is their role as volunteers. He outlines the steps that will be taken to get each faculty, school, department, library and unit up to speed, stressing that managers must be involved in partnership with the university's various entities and as "goodwill ambassadors" who help promote McGill internally and externally.
On the issue of volunteering, Weinstein is reminded by someone in the audience that many managers are already putting in overtime on their regular job. He is asked how much of this could be done on McGill time. Weinstein admits that, since the campaign is still in its planning stages, they are looking for models in which time spent volunteering doesn't impact work.
10:30-11:00: Break. We are told this is a good opportunity to network with our fellow managers. Instead, I hover near the plate of danishes and growl at the Diabetes Gene Discovery people who pass too close to our food. I need to work on my networking skills.
11:00-11:45: Hudson Meadwell, associate provost, academic staff, discusses academic renewal. Since 2000, 520 tenure-track professors have been hired and, he maintains, of equal importance is that the university has retained all but 35 of them. This is largely due to the school's commitment to help launch the careers of new professors and to support existing faculty by recognizing and rewarding excellence.
During the Q&A, the crowd bursts into spontaneous applause when someone suggests that academic renewal is wonderful but that non-academic renewal must be part of the process. The general consensus of the attendees seems to be that managers have to scramble to come up with human resources to support all these new arrivals. Each new question along these lines gets the crowd buzzing. I half expect a "Halleluiah!" to ring through the air.
12:00-1:30: Lunch. I take some advice from Koestner, the resolutions guy. My immediate goal is to get another bowl of the squash soup. I thank the good professor for changing my life as I slurp my second helping.
1:30-2:15: Dr. Joe Schwarcz, director of the McGill Office for Science and Study, helps us digest by getting us to laugh. On top of demonstrating the hilarious links between masturbation and corn flakes and M&Ms and the U.S. Army, he revels in debunking things like organic food ("the only people who benefit from organic food are the producers of organic food") and bottled water ("one of the most amazing scams ever perpetrated on the public").
2:15-2:45: Jill Baker, assistant manager, recreation and fitness, runs us through a brief stretching routine. "Ow" says the guy next to me as both of us struggle in vain to touch our toes. I miss Dr. Joe.
2:45-3:15: Principal Heather Munroe-Blum briefs us on the Task Force on Student Life and Learning. She tells us that the 25-member task force is still collecting suggestions from members of the McGill community on how to better serve our students. So far, there have been over 150 submissions, with the majority coming from students. Next week, the task force will be meeting with some of the authors of these submissions to discuss their suggestions in more detail.
Although the Principal emphasizes that this is a work in progress, she gives us a bit of a preview, saying that some of the key issues raised have been advising, under-funding, red tape and insufficient support for grad students. "Our students are what make us a great university," she says. "We need to enhance their experience here."
The question period has audience members taking up a now-familiar theme: human resources. "We cannot fulfill our aspirations without having a strong, healthy support staff," says Munroe-Blum, who then assures us that the projected growth of support staff is actually bigger than the same projections for faculty.
3:15-3:45: Morty Yalovsky, vice-principal, administration and finance, gives us a primer on managing in a competitive environment. He says that our working lives have been significantly impacted by three factors: post-sponsorship accountability, globalization and technology. I couldn't agree more — especially with the latter, as the advent of email has single-handedly cut my productivity in half (just kidding, boss).
He outlines a number of strategies to become a better manager, including being a benevolent leader, acting with honesty and integrity, and engaging in periods of self-reflection. Being a benevolent leader, he invites us to the wine and cheese reception immediately after the question period. After a collective period of self-reflection, we act honestly by asking no questions so we can get to the wine and nibbles more quickly. See? We're more effective managers already.