Members of Divest McGill interrupted the McGill Board of Governors’ (BoG) first meeting of the new year on Feb. 11. The students demanded recognition of their petition to remove university investments from the fossil fuel industry, presenting it as an opportunity to work with the board towards making McGill a more environmentally conscious place. The BoG also heard from Principal Suzanne Fortier on McGill’s international prominence at the World Economic Forum (WEF), and on the progress made in developing the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) site into a constructive part of McGill’s campus.
Divestment from fossil fuels
Members of Divest McGill joined the meeting unannounced to appeal to the governors to consider their petition to have McGill University remove investments in the fossil fuels industry.
“Where we put our money is the most important effect we can have on the climate crisis […] because of this we recognize that we need to move our investments out of fossil fuels,” said Victor Frankel, PhD candidate in biology, and environment commissioner of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill (PGSS).
More than 40 McGill alumni have pledged to return their diplomas if the board has not moved to divest from the fossil fuels industry by March 30.
“We have support from almost the entire McGill community who are ready to support you when you chose to divest from fossil fuels,” said Robert Thibault, a third year doctoral student in neuroscience. “We hope you take this amazing opportunity to prove McGill as a leader in the world and in Canada.”
Interim Chair of the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) and Chair of the BoG Stuart Cobbett updated the board on the status of the committee report on Divest’s petition.
“We are now […] working on our report and we expect to be able to come back to the board for the consideration on schedule,” Cobbet said.
The report is expected to be completed in time for the board to make a decision at a special BoG meeting to be held March 22. When asked by another member about the possibility of community consultation prior to the release of the preliminary report, Cobbett announced the committee had decided against it.
“Our decision was that we thought that we should issue our report and not get involved in a to-and-fro on a preliminary report.” Cobbett said.
The World Economic Forum
McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier travelled to Davos, Switzerland last month to attend the WEF. McGill was the only Canadian university represented in Davos and one of only 25 universities invited from around the world.
“As a result of this participation we have been approached to establish a more long term partnership with the World Economic Forum,” Fortier said. “With my colleagues I am working on that so McGill will be a participant in the forum for many years to come.”
Fortier went on to discuss the RVH development task-force’s progress. She stressed the importance of the multi-purpose nature of the new campus space. The goal of the task force is to break down the boundaries of a more traditional campus.
“The vision is really to create a real neighbourhood where there is a dynamic environment- an environment also that will bring us into the smart city/smart campus mode,” Fortier said. “We are building for the long term: If we do this project it will be for the next 100 years at least of McGill.”
Fortier reminded the board that the future of the project is contingent on acquiring the former RVH from the Quebec government.
“We are in the middle of a feasibility study and if the conditions are right we will move to acquire the site,” she said. “We are very clear on what conditions are needed for us to be in a position to acquire the site and develop it successfully. If the conditions are not right we will not move to acquiring the site.”