McGill’s Board of Governors (BoG) met on Feb. 8 for the first community session of the academic year. The community session, typically held once a semester, is the only opportunity for students to directly engage with members of the highest governing body of the university, who make decisions about McGill’s academic, financial, and business affairs.
The community session was preceded by the BoG’s regular open session meeting, which featured reports from the Audit and Risk Committee, the Vice-Principal (University Advancement), as well as a presentation highlighting the Desautels Faculty of Management.
Toward the end of the session, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) President Risann Wright asked whether a motion could be put forth to accelerate the BoG’s review process on divesting from fossil fuels.
“Three years ago, a decision was made to wait until 2024 to revisit the idea of divesting from fossil fuels,” Wright said. “I wonder if we might have a vote of the Board to see if we could push up or accelerate that timeline to revisit it now and to have the committee take a look at divesting from fossil fuels prior to 2024, given the increasing, consistent calls for divestment.”
Wright’s motion garnered support from McGill Chancellor John McCall MacBain, but prompted concern from BoG Chair Maryse Bertrand, who said it was unwise to make a decision about speeding up the review without consulting the Investment Committee, which would perform the assessment.
“These are not costless decisions, there are tradeoffs and I think, as a Board, it is very important for us to understand what the tradeoffs are,” Bertrand said. “I can tell you that and certainly the members of the Investment Committee […] would tell you that they have a lot of anxiety around exclusionary policies and constraints that impose on their ability to manage endowment funds to the best of their abilities [….] It’s a complex issue.”
After a discussion and amendments, the BoG passed a motion to consult with the Investment Committee, senior management, and other parties first to see if an acceleration would be possible. The Chair is mandated to bring updated information from these consultations to the next BoG meeting.
The topic of divestment continued at the community session. Emily Hardie, a member of Divest McGill and a U1 Arts student, asked the BoG why McGill had not divested yet, considering how other universities, including Harvard University and Concordia University, were in the process of doing so.
“I would like again for the Board to reconsider divestment. If it’s not for the ethical argument, I’d say for the sake of your reputation,” Hardie said. “Why not make a plan for 2025, 2030 or make a plan for divestment today? You are a group of 25 people who have this responsibility to make this decision [….] McGill is behind the times.”
Students also brought up food insecurity, the mental health crisis on campus, and the limited student representation on the BoG. Out of 25 voting members, there are two spots for student representation: One for a member of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society and another for the SSMU president.
Moment of the Meeting
Marc Weinstein, Vice-Principal (University Advancement) updated the BoG about his team’s strategy to secure donations to support the New Vic project. He noted that his team had hired an additional staff member to develop the university’s “narrative” around the project, which has been controversial due to outcry from Indigenous advocates who believe there are unmarked graves on the construction site.
“Ultimately, [BoG] decisions are made in the long-term interests of the university. Students are probably only there for three or four years. You want an organization that has 200 years of history and wants to continue for the next 200 years to be governed by people who have both the current view […] but also [those] who have their experience from McGill that have also garnered experience in industry and business.”
— Chair Maryse Bertrand on why members-at-large are disproportionately represented on the BoG compared to McGill students.