Two years ago, McGill cut its Eating Disorder Program. Then, this fall, a change in policy left note-takers working for McGill’s Office for Student Disabilities without proper compensation. McGill has excused these cuts, and other functional problems, as tough decisions forced upon the administration by complex financial difficulties stemming from historical events and government decisions. The university has no direct power over how much government funding it receives, but the way that McGill markets and manages itself now is entirely under its control. Last month, McGill announced “Made by McGill,” a $2 billion fundraising campaign designed to improve the university’s global standing as it enters its third century of existence. Considering the university’s funding situation, fundraising is absolutely necessary. However, in light of recent services cuts and other problems, it is worth questioning the university’s priorities governing the distribution of what funding it does receive.
The university’s intentions with Made by McGill must be analyzed in the context of its actual funding problems. Recent cuts in funding from the government of Quebec are only the tip of the iceberg. The university has experienced financial trouble ever since the banks left Montreal for Toronto in the wake of the October Crisis in 1970, leading to decreasing provincial revenue and funding for universities. McGill has a disclaimer on its website where the administration explains that a lack of funding is the root of many problems on campus.
McGill has few options for funding itself outside of government grants and donor investment, and students should certainly take this into account when complaining about mediocre services. However, in its spending and the way that Made by McGill was pitched, McGill appears to be much more focused on augmenting its image to encourage investment than serving its current student body. The premise for the fundraising campaign is to “propel McGill into its third century” primarily by fortifying financial aid and scholarship resources and reinforcing support for research and innovation. These are all great initiatives, but students who are already here have many gripes that need to be addressed. The university should consider addressing the concerns of the present student population as an equally viable way to improve its international stature as research investment.
Students are not “made by McGill,” and that wording can be characterized as careless. Considering that McGill is dependent on its student body for their tuition dollars, it is probably more accurate to say that McGill is made by its students. When the wording of Made by McGill is examined at face value, it would imply that by paying with our tuition to keep the Roddick Gates open, and by accomplishing things with the knowledge we obtain here by our own volition, we become a product of McGill, rather than its makers. The slogan is also tone-deaf considering all of the obstacles that McGill students have to deal with, in part because of the declining quality of some student services and utilities as a result of chronic underfunding.
Students don’t make McGill by their tuition alone. Through participating in student-run programs such as SSMU and clubs, as much as by investing in academic pursuits, the student body is what gives McGill its distinctive character more than anything else. McGill isn’t ‘made,’ either; it is an ongoing project that administration and students alike commit themselves toward. Considering the hardships that the current lack of funding for student services and other functions places on students, McGill should be cautious when putting out a message like the one implicit in “Made by McGill.”