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Board of Governors discuss university finance, online courses, and licensing agreements

The Board of Governors convened May 22 for their last meeting of the school year. The session was also the last meeting for Arnold Steinberg, who will be ending his term as Chancellor on Jun. 30.


In her opening remarks, Principal Suzanne Fortier spoke highly of a recent meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other members of the federal government.

“This was a very positive meeting with the Prime Minister, who expresses very strong support for the university sector,” Fortier said.

According to Fortier, Harper stressed the importance of on-going, sustainable investments for research, such as the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, which is included in the most recent federal budget. The fund will be used to help finance research without limitations on regional allocations.

Fortier also spoke of her meeting with representatives of the provincial government regarding the new provincial budget, released earlier this June. Fortier explained that the upcoming year would be financially difficult for McGill.

“Money we thought would be coming our way might not be coming at the same level, although there will still be investments,” she said.

In spite of this uncertainty, Fortier stressed that the provincial budget would pay special attention to universities, which have absorbed many budget cuts in the recent past.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

David Harpp, chemistry professor and member of the Board, discussed the launch of “Food for Thought”, McGill’s first massive open online course (MOOC). The course aims to explore the science behind everyday food.

According to Harpp, the MOOC had over 27,000 participants in 173 countries and a completion rate of seven per cent—compared to the average rate of completion for MOOCs at five per cent.

Provost Anthony Masi highlighted the success of other online, public educational forums, such as Ted-Ex, although he also noted that a plan to generate revenue from MOOCs has not been developed at McGill.

Harpp stressed that open access was integral to the MOOC experience.

“Look at it as the selling of your brand, not as a goal of a multi-billion dollar opportunity—[this is] a donation to the world,” he said.

Professor Harpp plans to begin another MOOC on natural disasters later this summer.

Licensing Agreement

The Board approved a motion to ratify the renewal of McGill’s licensing agreement with Copibec, a not-for-profit collective of Quebec authors and publishers. This renewal comes after McGill negotiated to obtain lower rates from Copibec.

Jonathan Mooney, outgoing Secretary-General of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill (PGSS), expressed concern over the fact that other universities in Canada with similar arrangements had not renewed their agreements.

In acknowledging this, Provost Masi highlighted that changes in media and technology complicate copyright law. He proposed the creation of an office for copyright within McGill.

“In the long run, we would not be well-served unless we have an office of copyright compliance in the university,” Masi said.

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