The annual McGill 24 fundraising event took place on March 10, with the university calling on its worldwide community—including alumni, faculty, staff and students—to donate. The funds raised contribute to McGill’s larger fundraising campaign, Made by McGill, which was introduced in September 2019 and seeks to raise two billion dollars ahead of the university’s upcoming bicentennial. At the time of its announcement, the campaign attracted significant criticism for its messaging. Despite that McGill often relies on student labour for soliciting funds and serving as university representatives, the administration has neglected to prioritize funding for causes that students have long been demanding, such as better mental health services. In future campaigns, McGill must make efforts to fund tangible solutions to improve the well-being of its students and better publicize its financial information to live up to its reputation.
McGill has consistently shown disregard for services that are crucial to students’ well-being. Last year, the Office for Students with Disabilities converted its paid notetaker jobs to volunteer positions after years of compensating notetakers’ time and effort. In 2017, the university cut funding to the Eating Disorder Program—an invaluable support service to students struggling with eating disorders or disordered eating. McGill’s insufficient mental health services are also of utmost concern, especially amidst a growing mental health crisis. Many of the university’s insufficient student services could be remedied if the university provides them with proper funding.
When donating to the university, individuals have the option to choose which areas receive their contribution. Most of the categories promoted on the McGill Giving website revolve around research, innovation, and infrastructure projects, with only a few making specific references to opportunities for students. While all of these areas are undoubtedly important, it is surprising that in light of student concerns over a lack of support, more emphasis is not placed on providing better funding for student services as part of these campaigns. The Made by McGill campaign celebrates student and alumni success despite failing to acknowledge the activism and initiatives students create in response to inadequate support––as they did with the creation of the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Eating Disorder Resource and Support Centre. If the university were to highlight specific categories dedicated to improving student wellness, donors may be more likely to contribute.
Perhaps McGill’s fundraising practices would be less insulting to students if the university publicized clearer fundraising reports in an effort to promote increased transparency. While donation records exist internally, the McGill Giving website includes only certain figures and a vague list of donors. Allowing for widespread, publicized access to these documents is key to holding the university accountable, but their concealment from students and donors only further ignites suspicions regarding the allocation of funds.
Upon graduation, when University Advancement starts sending emails soliciting donations, young alumni can use their voices to send a clear message to the university that they do not intend to donate to certain initiatives unless their donations go toward meaningful causes. If alumni continue to donate to the university without questioning its practices, the administration will have no reason to adjust its priorities.
For administrators to continue to receive donations in the current way while ignoring student demands for improved wellness services would be profoundly inconsiderate. If McGill is concerned with propelling itself into its third century, it can commit to meaningful equity initiatives like swiftly removing its outdated James McGill statue as demanded by its Black students. Students have a right to know where their money goes and to benefit from robust services that affect their actual campus experience. McGill’s rankings may speak to its research accomplishments, but they cannot mask its current students’ dissatisfaction. The administration must prioritize students’ health as it is the best way to set them up for success, ultimately making them more likely to think and speak positively of McGill in the future.