Highlights from the October 2 Board of Governors meeting

Dear members of the McGill community:

As I did last year, I will be sharing with you the highlights from each meeting of McGill’s Board of Governors. Here are the important discussions, decisions and developments from the first meeting of 2014-15, held last Thursday, October 2.

Before the Board dealt with normal orders of business, I gave my opening remarks. The topics I covered were the following:

  • Orientation Week: We had a successful, safe “frosh” experience, thanks to the collaborative efforts of our student leadership, Student Life and Learning, the Montreal Police and our neighbours in the Milton-Parc community.
  • Athletics: Last month, a member of the Redmen Football team was charged with criminal assault. The student was suspended from the team immediately. Student athletes are ambassadors and role models, and as such they are expected to meet high standards of conduct.
  • Rankings: The major world university rankings were announced in August and September. McGill placed 39th in the Times Higher Education rankings, maintained its QS ranking of 21, and dropped to 67th place in the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). Rankings are not an exact science, as seen by the significant differences observed in different rankings for the same institution.
  • Government relations
    • Funding: We prepared our FY2014-2015 budget based on a forecasted total grant from the Quebec government of $359 million. There are still some uncertainties, but we now estimate that grant will be about $340 million. Although we are better off thanks to our collective efforts to cut expenses last year, we will be facing a constrained budget for the foreseeable future.
    • Health care: The Quebec government’s proposed Bill 10 is expected to come into effect April 2015. Despite the many changes anticipated, we are cautiously optimistic that it will not have a negative impact on our academic and research missions.
    • The Quebec Minister of Education: During private meetings, Minister Bolduc and I discussed the need for increased simplicity and flexibility in the university funding formula and continued autonomy in the management of the University.
    • Royal Victoria Hospital: We await government approval to begin the feasibility study on new uses for the RVH site
    • Forum des Idées pour le Québec (September 12-14): I participated in a policy development forum attended by Premier Philippe Couillard and other senior government officials.  The theme was “Vivre l’innovation.” McGill was well-represented, by panellists and participants. 
    • Federal government submission: As we have done in the past, McGill has made a written pre-budget submission and has asked to appear before the House of Commons Finance Committee.
    • Canada First Research Excellence Fund: We anticipate the federal government will announce a preliminary call for proposals before the end of the calendar year.
  • Community engagement
    • Student community engagement: I suggested Board members read the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) and Engage McGill websites to learn more about our students’ impressive array of community-focused initiatives.
    • International students: Conférence régionale des élus (CRÉ) de Montréal launched an advocacy paper, developed in close consultation with McGill and other universities. The paper highlights the importance of attracting international students and advocates for more flexibility in the funding formula for Quebec universities.
    • Je vois Montréal: Many people from McGill, myself included, will participate in this event on November 17 aimed at infusing Montreal with a “nouvel élan.”
    • MIT and Flagship Ventures: I led a McGill group to meet with representatives from MIT and Flagship Ventures, a leading venture capital firm and early-stage start-up accelerator, with a view to promoting innovation and entrepreneurship at the University.

I closed my remarks by mentioning members of our community who have received special accolades from the Royal Society of Canada, and exceptional new funding from Brain Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Also mentioned was the fact that several members of the McGill Law community received the Advocatus Emeritus title. I also congratulated astrophysics professor Vicky Kaspi on being the lead speaker at the prestigious Solvay Conference on Physics this month. Finally, I welcomed Professor Robin Rogers, who joins us as the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Green Chemistry and Green Chemicals.

Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa presented the University’s Financial Statements for the fiscal year ending April 30, 2014. We ended FY2014 with an operating surplus of $15.7 million; the Board had previously approved an operating deficit of $10.4 million. The surplus was due in part to a decrease in the pension fund liability as a result of strong market results. The surplus will be used to lower our accumulated operating deficit. Our external auditors approved the report with no qualifications, the highest possible rating. Vice-Principal Di Grappa will post the financial statements later this month.

The Board approved a revised Gifts Acceptance Policy, which is in line with best practices at other universities.

The Executive Committee gave a report on the major outcomes of its two most recent meetings: On June 25, they approved the recommendation of the appointments of the new Dean of Education and new Ombudsperson for Students, and on September 4 they approved appointments to the Investment Committee and the Sports Hall of Fame Committee.

I reported on the September 17 Senate meeting, and the following reports were presented:

  • Academic Policy
  • Investigation of Research Misconduct
  • Student Services
  • Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Discrimination
  • Joint Board-Senate Equity
  • Honorary Degrees and Convocations

The Board made the following approvals:

  • Senate’s recommendations for appointments to the Committee on Staff Grievances and Disciplinary Procedures
  • The Declaration of Compliance to the Quebec Treasury Board, with regard to contracts with public bodies
  • The Annual Borrowing Resolution from Financement-Québec

Rose Goldstein, Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations), gave notice of the annual joint Board-Senate meeting, to be held on November 4, 2014, on the topic “Strengthening McGill's Engagement with the External Community.”

The meeting concluded with a presentation by Luda Diatchenko on her research in human pain genetics. Dr. Diatchenko joined McGill last year, as the University’s first appointment in the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) program.

I will share key actions and discussions from the Board’s next meeting, which will be held on December 2. (Their 2014-2015 schedule is here.) The full minutes from the open session of last year’s final meeting, held on May 22, plus a summary of items dealt with during that meeting’s closed session, are now available online; the minutes from last week’s meeting will be available following approval by the Board in December.

I welcome your thoughts, ideas and questions. You can always contact me at suzanne.fortier [at] mcgill.ca.


Suzanne Fortier
Principal and Vice-Chancellor

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