McGill Principal hosts campus media round table

On Nov. 2, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum spoke with the McGill Tribune, the McGill Daily, and Le Délit about the Fall semester and her expectations for her last year as principal.

McGill Daily: A lot of people have described the report [on past McGill asbestos research] as being self-serving and without transparency. I just want to know how McGill responds to that, and to multiple criticisms of the report.

Heather Munroe-Blum: In fact, the report has been very well received and followed a good process, and in the context of academic review—which is peer review—we feel very comfortable that a very objective review was done.

MD: Do you know why an external report was not done for this?

HMB: Because we have processes and procedures that we use, and the entire research enterprise is governed on a peer review basis and through the policies and constructs that we have in place.

Le Délit: What will be McGill’s role in the upcoming [provincial] education summit promised by Pauline Marois?

HMB: We certainly plan to make representation at it. We’re working to make suggestions about how the summit should be held, but it’s not at all clear what the structure or format will be … the needs and contributions and accountabilities [of a university] depend on the mission and culture and history of an institution, so we really want a multi-dimensional framework to the summit. We hope very much [for] the participation of students and professors, and I hope Quebeckers—maybe leaders from other sectors of Quebec society [too]. I think it would be terrific if we had some people from outside of Quebec as well, who deal with these issues.

McGill Tribune: Are there plans to address the recommendation of the report [on asbestos research] that the Board of Governors avoid investing in asbestos companies? 

HMB: That’s not something you can do without having a formal motion come forward and so forth, so that will depend on people bringing it forward. We do have a Committee of the Board on socially responsible investment, [but] the issue of managing investment portfolios is a complicated one. … It’s an easy thing to say, [but] it’s very complicated when you understand that a majority of investment tools today are big conglomerate investment tools. … The simple answer is we know of no current investment in asbestos, and we have no plans to go out and seek investment in asbestos.

MT: How have you made progress towards accomplishing your goals for your last year as McGill’s principal?

HMB: We’ve made good progress on our recruitment and on our strategic enrollment plan … I’d say my biggest goal that I set out with in 2003 when I became principal that I still haven’t completed is that every qualified student will be able to come to McGill independent of financial needs. I believe firmly [in] increasing student aid and bringing tuition to effective levels, and then having philanthropy and having governments stay the course. Neither tuition nor philanthropy should displace government support. … But then we need those who benefit from an educated population and those who benefit themselves directly—economically and otherwise—to pay a fair share of that; and so we’ve got to make progress on that and I’m hoping we still will this year. And for me, a big part of that as well is making sure the fees our students at McGill pay stay here to their benefit.

MT: Students are currently planning a McGill [education] summit before the provincial one. Is there anything the administration will do to facilitate or promote discussion on campus before the provincial summit?

HMB: We’ve been talking a lot with the student leadership about that … we think it’s a good idea, and I think it depends what it is, what the aims of it are, [and] which constituencies of the university will participate with it. … Once that’s determined, it’ll be clearer how we and others might participate [in] that. But certainly our idea was that if we have ideas where we can collaborate ,we would like to do that. And I think it’s a great idea to have discussions within the university about the summit, and I think there will be different points of view … about what will come out of the summit, but if there are one or two or three things where all of our constituencies can agree … it would be fabulous to focus on that as well.

—This interview has been edited and condensed by Erica Friesen.

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