October 10, 1996

The Principal's column

If the 1997-1998 provincial operating grant is cut as is forecast by the government itself, the cumulative reduction in this grant over approximately five years will have been 27%.

Given this substantial withdrawal of government from its previous responsibility to fund university education, the continuation of the "status quo," however valuable, simply is no longer a viable option. Therefore, in the months immediately ahead, a great deal of our time and energy will be taken up with the development of strategies that will enable McGill to sustain its mission in dramatically different circumstances.

The looming fiscal challenges are, I admit, both urgent and concrete. Thus far, however, we have managed to cope. On the expenditure side, we have maintained a positive balance in our operating budget, and on the revenue side, we have for the first time introduced a self-funded program (in Management), and we are beginning to benefit from the much needed infusion of funding provided by the successful conclusion of The Twenty-First Century Fund Campaign.

The difficulties, of course, abound, whether in terms of the compromises that we have made within our teaching and research programs and/or in terms of our very limited capacity to map a more appropriate compensation policy.

These difficulties and these challenges should not blind us, however, to the more basic and continuing academic challenges inherent not only in the development of the new technologies in particular and the explosion of knowledge more generally but also--and perhaps more importantly--in the changing structure(s) of knowledge. In the final analysis, McGill's future is as an academic rather than as a business institution.

In this context, it is worth reminding us all of the continuing re-dedication of McGill, in the midst of these difficulties, to its academic mission. The examples are many, too many to list in this short column, but some examples must be cited. The Faculty of Medicine has continued with the implementation of its new curriculum focusing on small group instruction and the much wider use of computer-assisted instruction.

The Faculty of Arts has set in motion the process to fundamentally review its undergraduate curriculum, something not done since the early '70s with the introduction of the CEGEPs. The Faculty of Engineering has completed the planning to put in place a core curriculum for Engineering. The Faculties of Science, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and Arts have agreed to cooperate to form a School of Environmental Studies which may bring together the exceptional strengths of McGill in an area currently distributed over several faculties.

The Faculty of Education has completely revised its BEd program in such a way as to provide the kind of professional training appropriate to school teachers of the next century. The Faculty of Management has also completely revised its Bachelor of Commerce program with a definite international emphasis.

The Faculty of Dentistry has revived itself, with strengthened research programs, a new state-of-the-art clinical facility and a new curriculum which has Dentistry students sharing with Medical students the first year-and-a-half of basic science training.

Finally, beginning this semester, we have introduced a program of first-year seminars in which freshmen students can participate in small classes under the guidance of some outstanding professors.

Many academic challenges remain; many questions must be answered.

Some of these questions are particular. For example, in the context of not only continuing but increasing fiscal constraint, what is the appropriate role for Continuing Education at McGill? How should the University respond to the increased pressures for admissions to Electrical Engineering? What structural arrangements will best foster development in Computer Science? In language teaching?

More generally, there will be the question of how--as we allocate resources to programs on what must be an increasingly differential basis--we come together to focus our efforts in ways that can promote not just cost effectiveness (as necessary as this will be) but also, and more importantly, both the quality of the teaching and research programs and their centrality to the mission of a research university.

We will, of course, continue to work on increasing revenue--we must find ways of replacing the loss in grant income. In all cases, however, it will remain necessary to conserve resources. We will simply have to organize ourselves and both focus and imagine our programs in ways that are more cost effective. If we wish to maintain our student base, we will have to be much more active and much more knowledgeable in the marketing of the University. In the final analysis, however, the "real" answers will lie in our academic rather than our fiscal creativity.