Controls fail or fraud occurs occasionally in all organizations and sectors. Universities absolutely need to stay vigilant and root out mismanagement. At the same time, some question decisions—like competitive pay for administrators—that are common practice in the university sector. Ideological disagreement about best practices is not the same thing as mismanagement.
- Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services confirmed McGill’s credit rating at AA- (Stable), one notch above that of the province of Quebec; Moody’s Investor Services assigned an Aa2 credit rating to McGill, the same as the Province of Quebec.
- McGill has received the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from the Government Finance Officers of North America for two years running.
- Our financial processes are effective and sound. We also review our governance model frequently, to make it as efficient as it can be. For example, in our 2003-05 reform, we cut the membership of our Board of Governors from 74 to 27.
Ultimately, results are the best measure of sound management:
- McGill ranks number 1 in Canada and 18th in the world in the QS rankings, and has been in the top 25 since 2004 when the survey debuted.
- Maclean’s ranks McGill the number one medical-doctoral school in Canada.
- McGill had a $5.2 billion impact on the Quebec economy in 2008, according to a study by SECOR Group. In the same year, the Government of Quebec invested a total of $389 million. That’s an economic impact of $13 for every $1 the government invested.
In Maclean’s, McGill ranks 11th out of 15 medical-doctoral universities for average operating budget per student, but is number 1 in percentage of operating budget spent on student financial support, and number 3 in terms of percentage of operating budget spent on libraries—a testament to the fact that McGill is putting its scarce resources toward academic goals.
Universities are complex and decentralized organizations, which can make streamlining a challenge. There is certainly room for progress, but often sound reasons exist for what some call waste. University administration has become a lot more complicated in the last couple of decades, and universities have been forced to grow their services to accommodate this. For example:
- Governments, granting agencies and donors are demanding a lot more reporting.
- Students rightly expect better service, from advising to IT.
- Large research grants have become immensely more complicated to apply for, which requires more support services.
- Professors are asking for help to make their teaching and supervision better.
- The landscape in research and libraries has changed dramatically, requiring investment in high-speed networks and databases.
McGill has been working to cut spending on administrative costs through the Strategic Reframing Initiative, and the Workforce Planning project is underway to help staff gain the new skills they need to adapt to this rapidly changing environment.
Principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s compensation is set by the Board of Governors, and while high for Quebec, her salary is just the 12th-highest among university leaders in Canada. Yet in the rankings, McGill sits 1st to 3rd among Canadian universities. McGill recruits nationally and internationally for professors and senior leadership, and we must be competitive in order to attract top talent—and keep top Quebec talent from leaving.
Even if the salaries of all senior administration (principal, all vice-principals, assistant/associate vice-principals and deans) were eliminated completely, McGill would save just 0.8% of its total budget. McGill spends more than 10 times that amount on student financial support.
Each year, McGill’s staff spends a lot of time and resources producing thousands of pages of reports for the Quebec government, so that they can assess our activities. (See a list of reports [French only] that the Quebec government requires universities to submit.) It can’t be easy for the government to analyze this data, and it certainly isn’t easy for students, donors or the general public to see at a glance how universities are reporting.
That’s why McGill is advocating for agreements with the government that define individual goals for each institution (like degree completion rates, money spent on student support, etc.). These concrete measurable goals would form the basis of our universities’ “report cards,” letting the general public can see at a glance whether individual universities—and the system as a whole—are getting the results they promised.