Academic renewal, yes, but...

Academic renewal, yes, but... McGill University

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McGill Reporter
April 6, 2000 - Volume 32 Number 14
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 32: 1999-2000 > April 6, 2000 > Academic renewal, yes, but...

Academic renewal, yes but...

| The good news is that the University will be hiring hundreds of new faculty over the next 10 years. The bad news is that universities all over North America will be doing just the same thing. As is the case at McGill, close to half of the professoriat of North American universities were hired in the '60s, putting them at near retirement age.

Speaking at last Thursday's Management Forum, Vice Principal (Academic) Luc Vinet warned that due to this common situation, "there will be much more turn-around, more poaching." The problem will also be exacerbated by the fact that Ontario universities are wealthier and stand to become more so. While Quebec's university population is relatively static, Ontario's is growing, partly due to general population growth as well as to the "double cohort" which will be felt in two years' time when grade 13 is phased out.

"Universities will be hard-pressed to appoint professors which will drive up salaries. We're in a global market to attract professors while our revenues are local," said Vinet, adding that "we will have to adjust and readjust salaries or we may simply have to opt out of certain areas."

In other words, market pressures may cancel out any gains made by increased student population or government investment. This could present the need for "strategic enrolment management," whereby the University might increase recruiting of students in such areas as electrical engineering and computer science in order to have more faculty. "At the same time," however, "we don't want McGill to get too big," said Vinet, reminding the audience that the University is the smallest in Montreal.

The other issue is vying for young talent. "We will be like hockey coaches looking for talent at a young age on the farm teams. Screening will be looser so the tenure process will have to be stricter.

"We will need a much more transparent situation regarding the management of hiring than what we have now which is rather opaque," he said with a laugh, adding that the impending wide-scale hiring will require more staff in his office.

Having to hire so many young faculty will mean that by 2006-2007, approximately 35 percent of them will be assistant professors "when it shouldn't be more than 20 percent."

With so many getting their research and teaching established, it has consequences on the ability of a department to secure research grants, be part of research centres and to get the administrative work done.

On a different subject, Vinet voiced his interest in seeing research better integrated into the undergraduate curriculum. "We need to reflect on how this might happen," he said, adding that "research develops inquisitive minds in students."

At the same time, Vinet voiced his concern over having the University's direction be determined by the research biases of the granting agencies. While examining which programs might further be developed and taking advantage of the opportunities offered by funding bodies, we have to remember what our principles are, he emphasized, using: "Training in the liberal arts should be at the core of what McGill is about," as an example.

Vinet explained that each faculty has been asked to submit its own strategic plan for program development and hiring, which will be studied by the Planning and Priorities Committee.

"Now is a challenging but exciting time; this is a genuine renewal of McGill that will require much imagination and entrepreneurship," he concluded.

And where will the funding come from? Running a deficit, said Morty Yalovsky, acting Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance). "We could balance the budget but there would be no hiring and no raises," he said, adding that even if the University's 14.33 percent of the global Quebec university pie goes up by one percent, it will not be enough to offset underfunding, estimated at $19 million this year for McGill.

The University remains committed to raising salaries to the median of the G10 group of Canadian research universities, said Yalovsky. To retain faculty in the coming competitive times, McGill plans on improving infrastructure and, in the case of a professor offered a position elsewhere, will make a counteroffer. However, he warns, "I don't want faculty to think of putting themselves on the market as a way of getting an increase."

He also reassured those from the humanities and social sciences that even though "the thinking of the government is in the direction of technology and science," the university will try to keep a balance. "What comes to the university should be shared. Together we need to protect the areas of the humanities and social sciences."

One area where there will be some immediate spending is maintenance. "Over the next two months, there will be a flurry of activity," said Yalovsky, as work crews tend to long-overdue maintenance jobs such as repairing furniture, painting classrooms, repairing lighting, etc. Much of the work will go on in the evenings and weekends to avoid disturbing students during the exam period.

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