Volume 29 - Number 9 - Thursday, January 30, 1997

McGill, Concordia, join forces

by Daniel McCabe

McGill and Concordia are entering into a new era of partnership that will see the two universities collaborate more closely in some of the administrative services vital to their day-to-day functioning and in the courses they offer to their respective students, according to a joint press release issued early this week.

But leaders at the two schools are quick to insist that a full-fledged merger simply isn't in the cards. In fact, McGill principal Bernard Shapiro and Concordia rector Frederick Lowy both argue that by joining forces in some areas, the two universities will be in a better position to focus their energies on activities that are unique to each school.

"I see this as giving us the flexibility we'll need to develop our distinctiveness," says Shapiro. "There are areas where our missions overlap," adds Lowy. "We should investigate the potential for collaboration in those areas. But McGill and Concordia offer very different sorts of services to their communities. I don't see that ever changing."

The executive committees of the two universities' boards of governors have been quietly meeting for several months to explore ways in which the schools could work together to their mutual advantage. While Shapiro cautions that talks between McGill and Concordia "are still quite preliminary," four areas of possible cooperation have been identified.

McGill and Concordia's purchasing and internal audit units will be collaborating more closely in the months to come. The universities will look at the possibility of working together in the development and purchase of new financial accounting systems. The two schools' library systems will cooperate in the purchase of scholarly journals and other resource materials. And very soon, students at the two universities will be able to take courses at each other's schools far more easily.

Lowy says budgetary problems are spurring the closer ties. "All of Quebec's universities have been hit very hard in recent years. We're all eager to maintain the quality of our programs, our libraries and our services in the face of these budget cuts." Shapiro is quick to add, however, that money isn't the only consideration. At a McGill board of governors meeting earlier this week, the principal stated, "New opportunities for collaboration will have academic benefits that should not be undervalued."

Lowy says the first message he wants to send out to McGill and Concordia staff who work in purchasing and internal audit is, "Don't panic. Both schools fully intend to respect the collective agreements with staff that are in place. If downsizing occurs, it will happen through attrition or as a result of new negotiations with staff representatives."

Shapiro says, "For the immediate future, the implications for staff are zero. In the middle term, the implications are not much more than that. In the long term, there might be consequences--it's still too soon to tell."

Lowy adds, "We shouldn't be quick in assuming that people will lose jobs. I expect that we'll be able to save a great deal of money by purchasing in larger volume together and by getting better deals from our suppliers."

On the subject of libraries, Lowy says a closer connection between the two universities should be a win-win proposition.

"There has been a scientific explosion and a proliferation of periodicals. Our library's ability to afford all these titles has been greatly impaired--that's true of McGill as well. It makes sense for us to try to coordinate our activities a bit more. Maybe we can subscribe to certain journals and McGill can subscribe to others."

A working group with representatives from each university is currently meeting to investigate in greater detail some of the potential links between McGill and Concordia. The co-chairs are McGill Vice-Principal (Academic) Bill Chan and Concordia Provost and Vice-Rector (Research) Jack Lightstone. Other McGill members of the working group are English professor Michael Bristol and Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Phyllis Heaphy.

"Everything is going to go through the proper channels," says Chan. "In terms of some of the academic items we're discussing, these things will go to the Senate Committee on Libraries, APPC and Senate."

Lowy and Chan both say they hope to see more of their students attending classes at the other's university.

"We hope to facilitate that by greatly reducing the bureaucratic impediments that complicate that sort of exchange," says Lowy. He says students will profit from having access to a greater range of courses.

"What I would like to see--in departments where the two schools decide to work together--is courses from the two universities cross-listed in both schools' student calendars," says Chan. "Concordia courses could be listed in McGill's calendar and given a McGill course number. I'm hopeful that we'll have some agreements in place within the next few months so that we'll be able to have something implemented in time for next September."

Chan says so far the two schools have focused their talks on their religious studies and teacher training programs as areas "where there is a good chance that an agreement can be reached in the near future."

The vice-principal (academic) says McGill is considering potential linkages to other universities as well. "We're interested in finding other institutions where cooperation would be beneficial for two or more partners."

"It's a question of learning to operate in a new way, of learning a new culture," says Shapiro. "I think it's very exciting."

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