It is difficult for students to comment on the McGill’s behemoth bureaucratic nature. Various administrative levels seem oceans apart from the day-to-day educational pursuits of the student body. As a line gets drawn between administrators on one side, and academics and students on the other, all members of the McGill community must ask themselves: “Who is a university for?” The answer to this question must be one that balances the practical needs of a public university facing austerity measures with the priorities of maintaining McGill’s place as an accessible research institution. But such a balance is not the reality of McGill’s situation.
The corporatization of the university is a nebulous concept, and is directly related to answering the question of “Who a university is for.” Ever since the 2008 financial crisis, universities across North America have had to clamber to find new sources of funding. The effects have been a particularly bitter pill to swallow in Quebec. Universities, in response to defunding, face higher competition to attract the best students and achieve top rankings, as well as greater competition for a more limited number of research grants. Students and faculty members have less influence on priorities because of the reduction in funding from non-corporate grants. Corporatization also refers to the influence of private sector actors who become more influential vis-à-vis traditional university stakeholders, as private financial backing becomes more essential to university research and operations.
Oftentimes McGill’s priorities feel disingenuous and distant from the student experience. Some of this distance may be accounted for by McGill’s frugality, which, to be fair, is not its fault; but a lot of it must also be boiled down to who McGill considers to be important stakeholders. For example, the administration’s response to the Divest McGill campaign this past week shows that it prioritizes the viewpoint of certain alumni and potential donors over current students, faculty members, and the alumni who returned their diplomas in protest.
Professors are also increasingly disillusioned by the corporate university structure. Many feel the pressure of having to find funding for their research. Various studies in 2013 found that Quebec universities are underfunded compared their peers across Canada. Quebec’s share of federal research funding fell from 30.5 per cent in 2003-2004 to 25.4 per cent in 2008-2009; in 2014, Quebec university funding declined by 4.6 per cent while other universities in Canada saw increases. Acquiring funding is more competitive, earning a tenured position at McGill is more difficult, and class sizes are growing. McGill may provide support for research, but it must do so selectively. McGill therefore leans towards financial pragmatism; in so doing, it makes a value judgment as to which experiences are valuable and which are not.
Part of the answer to the question “Who is a university for?” is in the mission statement of McGill: “The mission of McGill University is the advancement of learning and the creation and dissemination of knowledge, by offering the best possible education, by carrying out research and scholarly activities judged to be excellent by the highest international standards, and by providing service to society.” As such, the corporatization of the university should be viewed as alarming; while McGill must make money somehow, internalizing the rationale and structure of a private corporation cannot mean losing sight of who a university is for—namely, society and its curious minds.