At the second McGill Senate meeting of the year, Arts Senator Henrique Mecabô called on McGill’s administration to increase the allocation of funds raised by the ‘Made by McGill’ campaign for student services. In the next five years, funds from the campaign will be dedicated into four areas: Bursaries and scholarships, hands-on experiences for students, research and faculty projects, and facility expansion. Donations would therefore not be designated to improving student services unless the donor specifically requests it.
“I would not say [that] the problem is that McGill is asking for more money while such essential services are lacking funds, but that McGill, knowing [that] such funds are lacking, suggested donation allocations that do not seem to include student services,” Mecabô wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune.
In response, Vice-Principal University Advancement Marc Weinstein pointed to the Rossy family, who specifically requested that their $11 million donation be used to fund the Rossy Student Wellness Hub.
“I would like to emphasize that the hub model that’s been put forward for McGill is innovative and incredibly interesting, and now [that] we’re seeing better service through that and the support of the university, [but] it doesn’t mean [efforts towards improving mental health are] going to end there,” Weinstein said. “When we know a potential donor, like [the] Rossy family, has had a major interest in making sure students are getting the right [and] appropriate services, we bring these parties together and that’s how we get some of these larger gifts.”
Senator Derek Nystrom inquired about policies for determining whether donations come from ethical sources, referring to donations from the Sackler Family, whose pharmaceutical company contributed to the opioid crisis. Music Senator Sebastien Duckett voiced concerns about whether donations from the fossil fuel industry should be considered morally irresponsible, though Weinstein said that the decision was complicated.
“On the one hand, those entities we are referring to are making money legally, so therefore, why would we not accept those donations?,” Weinstein said. “On the other hand, there’s the moral decision, which, without getting into a big debate about it here today, is something that [is] on our minds. But we haven’t really come out with a platform on it [as] it is sensitive and challenging.”
Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President University Affairs Madeline Wilson questioned the impact of accepting donations from companies with ties to the fossil fuel industry on Made By McGill’s public image. Weinstein asserted that there are specific socially responsible funds that environmentally-conscious donors can contribute to, and said that the administration is sensitive to these issues.
“It’s something that the administration is looking at and understands that it is a challenging situation in relation to becoming hard-line on one end or the other,” Weinstein said.
“We do have the ability for people to invest in socially responsible funds, [like our] fossil-free fund. So we can encourage people to invest their money in various areas of investments. We are not talking about where the money will be used, but how it will be invested, so it follows in their own wishes. Most of our portfolio is in fact invested in socially responsible, around 80 percent.” —McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier
Arts Senator Derek Nystrom addressed controversies surrounding donations made by the Sackler Foundation between 2014 and 2017. McGill has recognized the Foundation in their ‘James McGill Circle’ panels outside of the Leacock building, which lists the names of prominent donors. Weinstein asserted that there are procedures that ensure McGill has done due diligence before accepting donations.