Volume 29 - Number 16 - Thursday, May 8, 1997

Shapiro's mandate renewed

by Daniel McCabe

The Board of Governors has appointed Principal Bernard Shapiro to a new five-year term as principal and vice-chancellor of McGill beginning September 1, 1997.

The board acted on a recommendation from the Committee to Review the Principal--a 13 member group with representation from the board, Senate, the McGill Association of University Teachers, non-academic staff, undergraduate and graduate students and alumni.

"We have the best principal in Canada looking after McGill and I'm delighted that he will be leading the University for another five years," says Richard Pound, chair of the Board of Governors.

Ian McLachlin, a lecturer in the Faculty of Management who served on the committee as an alumni representative, says, "We felt that this reappointment for a term of five years would provide Principal Shapiro with the strength and support to continue the many initiatives he has introduced."

Pound adds, "I don't think there is anyone in the country who has the same overall grasp of the system of higher education and the changes occurring in it than Bernard Shapiro.

"The next five years are going to be a period of virtual revolution in terms of the social contract and how it relates to higher education. Bernard can see the forest as well as the trees. I think it's important for everyone--faculty, students, staff, governors, alumni, the government--to know that we will have somebody of Bernard's calibre at the helm for this period."

MAUT president Juan Vera was not surprised at the principal's reappointment. "During my period at MAUT, I have seen a clear effort from the administration to reorient priorities towards maintaining McGill's academic excellence," says Vera.

He urges the principal to stay the course in terms of working to improve salary levels for academic staff, McGill's library resources and the upkeep of the University's buildings and labs.

"MAUT has kept good working relations with Principal Shapiro during the past two-and-a-half years, and we are looking forward to a continued exchange of ideas and honest discussions during his next five-year term."

The Committee to Review the Principal met nine times before reaching its decision. It interviewed all of McGill's deans and received over 100 letters about the principal from faculty, students, staff and alumni.

"The deans were concerned that the University was dealing with very serious economic challenges," says Trevor Garland, president of the McGill University Non-Academic Staff Association and a member of the committee. "They felt that the principal was making good headway in getting the University community to realize that, going into the next century, the government funding situation is going to be very tough and we're going to have to adapt. The sense was that the principal has been successful in getting people to understand that."

But Garland says there were some criticisms of Shapiro as well. "There was concern about the way he interacts with members of the community sometimes." Some letters accused Shapiro of not always being very tactful or diplomatic in his dealings.

Hugh Potter also served on the committee as a representative of graduate students. "Certainly the feeling in the Post-Graduate Students Society is that he hasn't treated graduate students with much respect."

Potter says the review process itself rubbed some the wrong way. "We heard complaints from people that [the review] was taking place halfway into his mandate, instead of after four years."

Adds Potter, "There doesn't seem to be any sort of formal review process for principals written into the statutes and perhaps there ought to be."

Chancellor Gretta Chambers, who chaired the committee, acknowledges that the decision to review Shapiro at this juncture didn't please everyone, but she insists the reasoning behind it was sound.

"His mandate was originally scheduled to end in 1999. The terms of the chair of the board of governors, the chancellor, two vice-principals and three deans were also due to come to an end at that point.

"Everybody would have been up for renewal at the same time and that would have been a difficult situation. We thought we should do something about it and the principal didn't mind going first."

In retrospect, Chambers says that perhaps the University should have waited a few more months--until the principal had served for at least three years.

"Judging people on the basis of half a term is very unfair to the candidates--they don't have as large a record of achievement."

Adds Chambers, "Possibly we should rethink [the process]. Before Principals Bell and Johnston, there was no mechanism for reappointments or review at all--principals stayed as long as they liked. I certainly don't think [a principal's record] should be reviewed in any kind of nebulous way. But I'm not necessarily in favour of having everything carved in stone--there are advantages to being flexible in response to the issues and concerns of different periods."

Questions have also been raised about the principal's age in relation to the new five-year appointment--particularly since the University has been lobbying the government to introduce measures to institute compulsory retirement for faculty in their late 60s who have worked at the University long enough to have accumulated a substantial pension.

"As things stand now, the government isn't touching that. Nobody is forced to leave the University after they turn 65. We couldn't insist on something like that--it's currently against the law," says Chambers.

She has no reservations whatsoever in endorsing her committee's decision. "This is the best thing for McGill--that the principal carry out what he has started."

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