Entre Nous with Provost Tony Masi

Entre Nous with Provost Tony Masi McGill University

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McGill Reporter
November 9, 2006 - Volume 39 Number 06
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 39: 2006-2007 > November 9, 2006 > Entre Nous with Provost Tony Masi
Caption follows

For Provost Tony Masi everything about this campus matters, right down to the parking spots.
Owen Egan

Entre nous with Provost Tony Masi

Keeping academic priorities and resource allocations in balance

Nearing the end of his first year as provost, Tony Masi discusses everything from his new responsibilities to a moment of truth in Italy.

As provost you've been given added responsibilities, including the allocation of budgets, facility development and Human Resources decisions. Why?

If you conceptualize a budget as a planning document rather than a financial document, then it becomes clear why the Provost's Office has to have responsibility for preparing the university's budget. It sets a whole new tone for the expectation that academic priorities drive all resource allocations. The job of provost is to act as the coordinator and to establish the relationship between academic priorities and resource allocations.

The most contentious issue on any campus is space allocation — after parking spaces, of course [laughs]. This means facilities development has to be fully coordinated as a resource allocation just like the money necessary to do things would be in a budget.

How does the McGill's provostial model compare to the model in which the provost is viewed as a university's chief operating model?

The chief operating model would be too difficult to absorb into the McGill tradition and culture because we have such high expectations of the Principal. She is the leader — not just the external leader — she is the leader of the university both externally and internally. The provost is the support that she has for all those things related to the academic mission.

What was the genesis of the white paper and where does it stand now?

From 2003-2004, we put together a proposal to the deans to work on strategic planning. We wanted to create a set of directions that would help us identify the areas in which we were already doing well and other areas where we knew we had the potential to develop because of emerging requirements from the deans in terms of hiring.

In 2004-05, for the first time, we actually issued budgets that had in them requirements for reporting back on the success that was achieved on the basis of the resources that were allocated. There had always been accountability for deans but never in a way that directly tied resource allocations to a set of expectations that could be measured against performance.

The white paper will be finalized by December, after which it will be submitted to Senate and the Board. Once completed, it will serve as administrative guidelines for us in terms of how we're going to make resource allocations over the next five years.

What have been the biggest challenges and rewards of implementing the white paper?

It requires people to think differently and this isn't always met with great enthusiasm. It has required our deans to rethink the way they structure budgets and it has required our central administration to be more flexible and to play a more facilitative role in ensuring things do happen across faculties. I've spent 26 years of my life at this great place and it gives me great satisfaction in being able to pull together a set of priorities that are built on strengths that we already have.

Now that we're in the midst of ranking season, what's your take on the issue?

There is no perfect ranking system. Different systems throughout the world use different criteria. One of our objectives at McGill is simply to be recognized for what we are: one of the world's truly great, publicly funded, research-intensive, student-centered universities.

We're willing to be held accountable but we're never going to manage our university because we go up or down in the rankings. We go up in the rankings because we're doing a good job.

Twenty-six years after being hired, do you have a "Welcome to McGill" moment?

When I came to McGill I initially thought I'd be here for two or three years. My plan was to go back to the U.S. or to Italy where my wife is from. But in 1993, things really started shifting in terms of how I felt and I became more and more attached to this place. I went to present a paper at the Bellagio Study Centre in Italy and, talking to colleagues, I remember saying how I couldn't wait for the tenure decision because I really wanted to stay. There I was, sitting in one of the most famous places in all of Italian literature on Lake Como, talking about my research in Italy but realizing that my home was here at McGill.

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