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The holidays have been good to McGill. Happy news started with the December announcements that university archivist Johanne Pelletier had been appointed secretary general and that interim provost Tony Masi is now provost, period. A few days later, Ann Dowsett Johnston was named vice-principal of development, alumni and university relations, rounding out a solid administrative team.
Dowsett Johnston, the award-winning journalist and editor at Maclean's, has been a powerful advocate for higher education for years. She's overseen and refined the magazine's popular annual university rankings since 1992, and launched Maclean's Guide to Canadian Universities in 1996. Last year, she won her sixth national magazine award for How Grads Grade Their Schools.
Dowsett Johnston's engagement in higher education has long attracted the attention of universities, some of which have sought to hire her. But it was when she was at McGill for the unveiling of Seymour Schulich's gift to the Schulich School of Music, that she had an "epiphany."
"It was very moving evidence of vision and generosity," Dowsett Johnston said in a phone interview from her home in Toronto. "Canada needs many more Schulichs."
Principal Heather Munroe-Blum said that Dowsett Johnston is a "smart, creative, dynamic person," who understands the issues of underfunding and has learned how crucial the philanthropic role is to universities. "A big part of fundraising is making the case for support," Munroe-Blum said.
"She has a seriousness of engagement on higher education in Canada, and an affinity for the values and standards of McGill."
Dowsett Johnston's career in media began as a summer intern at Maclean's in 1977. She went on to become entertainment editor, and covered John Lennon's death.
She said she has witnessed a lot under five editors at Maclean's and believes her switch to McGill "is a natural move from one great Canadian institution to an exceptional institution with international heft.
"Moving from a media culture to a university culture will be interesting," she said. "I intend to spend the first couple of months being very absorbent."
Dowsett Johnston has a niece and several young friends at McGill. "A lot of the job is about bettering the lives of undergrad and grad students" as well as enhancing support for McGill's achievement through private giving. She feels "energized" by her new role. "This is an interesting challenge in an exciting place, at a critical juncture," she said.
Dowsett Johnston starts her five-year term on February 6.
Provost Tony Masi is not so new to his role, having served as interim provost since last March, when former provost Luc Vinet was named rector of Université de Montréal. As provost, Masi is chief academic officer of the university after the principal and has oversight and responsibility for the strategies, development and assessment of all academic policies and programs.
During the time he was interim provost, Masi played a critical role in the appointment of no fewer than five deans and two associate provosts. He also took over the renewed search for a Dean of Medicine (Dean Abe Fuks will step down in 2006) and opened the search for a Dean of Arts. He is leading with the collaboration of deans and other academic colleagues the development of the white paper that will outline McGill's strategic plans for the future. A draft has been presented to Senate and the Board of Governors.
A distinguished academic with a long list of achievements and an acute sense of humour, Masi said that the only difference between serving as interim provost and provost is "my title is shorter."
Masi was deputy provost and chief information officer since 2003, and previously vice-principal (information systems and technology) from 2001 to 2003. Masi came to McGill from New York in 1979 as an assistant professor of sociology, and has done extensive research on statistical analysis of labour market data in Canada, Sweden, and Italy.
Munroe-Blum said that Masi has "been an exceptional partner in various roles, all of which have proven his abilities and prepared him. His commitment to McGill and love of the academic mission is expressed in everything he does. He marries well the high standards with the art of the possible.
"Tony's a doer. He brings a strong sense of fairness and good judgment to the position. He understands the public mission of the university."
Munroe-Blum said, "We're in a community of 40,000 very smart people with great ideas." The challenge is to "make those ideas a reality."
Johanne Pelletier, secretary general, will be keeping an eye on the process of making those ideas a reality. The office of the secretariat oversees and is closely involved in the board of governors, senate and most committees of the university. Basically all the groups that make decisions about how McGill runs and what it does.
The office is also in charge of ceremonial matters, record keeping, staff dispute resolution, trademark and copyright issues. Want to use McGill's coat of arms? You'll have to run it by her first.
She joined McGill in 1997 to be the director of the archives, as well as university archivist. In that role, she was liaison and policy advisor to the secretariat on university record-keeping obligations. Prior to that, she was the archives advisor to Ontario's Ministry of Culture and Communications.
Pelletier said she was thrilled to serve the archives for 8 years, and is looking forward to the challenge of being secretary general.
Munroe-Blum said that Pelletier's background in governance and archives has given her a keen engagement with the importance of the democratic process and a "regard for the process of good governance."
Most of the governance positions - senators, committee members, advisory boards - are on a volunteer basis. "She has a natural respectfulness that all are doing this because they care about good governance at McGill," Munroe-Blum said.
"She's even handed, smart, thoughtful, well prepared and disciplined," added Munroe-Blum.
This spring, Pelletier will wear the double mortarboard of both being in charge of convocation and being in convocation. She's set to receive a McGill MA in Communications, which she started part-time in 2002.
"I'm absolutely delighted to have the permanent team in place," said Munroe-Blum, who added that the team is dedicated to "activist leadership" to keep McGill competitive at the international level. "There's a strong sense of shared aspirations," she said.