September 12, 1996

The Principal's column

I hope that each of you had an enjoyable and productive summer. Mine was certainly enjoyable. Musically, I loved Lizzie Borden (Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown). The best books that I read were Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea, John Horgan's The End of Science and Michael Walzer's Spheres of Justice. The best play that I saw was the revival of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, and it will be quite some time, I believe, before I see more insightful art exhibits than that devoted to Magritte here in Montreal and that of the Picasso portraits mounted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. More personally, however, the real highlight of the season was a week spent in Chatham on the south shore of Cape Cod with my wife, my children and my five grandchildren.

The closing days of August marked for McGill the beginning of the academic budget and planning process for 1997-1998 and beyond. Earlier during the summer, deans and directors had prepared planning reports for the areas of their responsibility, and last week, the vice-principals and I met for two days together with all of the faculty deans and, subsequently, for one full day with the directors of the larger administrative units.

Planning for the short and medium term future is not an entirely easy or happy prospect since the reduction in the Quebec operating grant for 1997-1998 will be even larger than that which we are experiencing this year, and there is as yet no indication of what movement, if any, there will be with regard to tuition fees for 1997-1998.

In response, it seems quite clear that we cannot provide the quality of teaching and research programs to which we are committed simply by continuing to cut costs. Although there clearly are both program and administrative efficiencies still to be made at McGill, we must also find ways of maintaining and, where appropriate, increasing revenues. In other words, there will need to be some redefinition of the relative contribution to our costs by students and their families, various levels of government and the private sector, a partnership that has sustained the University for quite some time.

The next phase of the planning process will be to bring the newly revised report of the APPC sub-committee on Planning and Priorities and the results of our recent planning meetings together for discussion at the joint Senate/Board meeting planned for the end of September.

In the meantime, certain assumptions have been made to guide our planning. These assumptions are that:

  1. McGill's underlying purpose is to increase understanding, in the sense of sharing what is already understood and in the development of new understandings
  2. this commitment is interpreted as a civic function, not simply the expression of our personal preferences
  3. McGill's approach to this commitment reflects its role as a university, rather than a research institute, and includes the mission of liberal and professional education, insofar as they are consistent with the goal of increased understanding
  4. there is currently no widespread support across the University for a substantially smaller McGill
  5. although faculty and students are clearly the most central resource in a community of scholarship, they are not sufficient in and of themselves either to develop or to sustain this community. The contributions of others, especially those of staff and alumni, must be recognized, respected and encouraged.

Above all, the planning process has assumed that, through its local, national and international student and research networks, McGill's special mission is to deliver both its teaching and research programs at a level which surpasses the best in Canada or at least matches it.

Within the framework of the overall planning process and in addition to specific lobbying of the government on priority issues such as grant support, tuition fees and capital budget allocations, a more immediate "action" agenda is also necessary--measured in terms of weeks or months, rather than years. Following my recent meetings with deans and directors, I have developed such an agenda, and list below, in no particular order, the areas of concern.

1. Admissions:
A continuing commitment to the standards for admission to McGill; a specification by unit and degree level of the admission targets; the development of a more active program (involving both alumni and faculties) of recruitment.

2. Budget Allocation:
A reconsideration of the formula that allocates budget resources internally, with the particular objective of promoting inter-faculty cooperation.

3. Teaching:
An effort to coordinate more effectively our work in the use of technology, both in the classroom and in internal communications, and a renewed stress on the importance of revisions to the academic programs in light of both the academic and fiscal challenges that we face.

4. Accountability:
A review of the formats of the reports prepared annually by faculty and the development of a preliminary set of performance indicators for planning and discussion, as amongst ourselves and within the Board of Governors.

5. Development and Alumni Relations (DAR):
The development of fundraising priorities that will relieve McGill's operating budget and the looming crisis in deferred maintenance; the restructuring of the relationships between DAR and the faculties; the development of "campaign cabinets" for each faculty and the resumption of fundraising activities.

6. Continuing Education:
A review and reconstruction of the role of the Centre in particular and, more generally, of the appropriate role of McGill in continuing education, the fastest growing sector in higher education.

7. Student Fees:
Taking into account the difficulties involved (especially for students themselves), a consideration of the options available to McGill with regard to regular student fees, special fees, international student fees, extra-session fees, etc.

8. Administration:
A continuing consideration of the possibilities of cost and service savings through outsourcing and systems development as well as a new effort with regard to customer service so that from the point of view of students and faculty, the University's administration is seen as facilitating rather than being "in the way."

9. Contract Research/Faculty Consulting:
A review of our arrangements in this area and the development as appropriate of new arrangements that will encourage this work in a way that benefits not only faculty individually but McGill as well.

10. Inter-University Cooperation:
A review of our accomplishments to date in this area and a consideration of ways in which we can profitably move further ahead.

All of the above--and this in addition to our regular work! No one said it was going to be easy, and no one imagines that we will make significant progress immediately. On all fronts, however, we must at least be moving forward.