On Mar. 5, Stuart H. (Kip) Cobbett, chair of McGill’s Board of Governors (BoG), announced that Dr. Suzanne Fortier had been appointed as McGill’s 17th principal. She will begin her five-year term in September, at which point she will officially replace McGill’s first female principal, Heather Munroe-Blum.
The BoG appointed Fortier after receiving a recommendation from the Board’s Advisory Committee for Nomination of the Principal, which began meeting in the spring of 2012.
The Committee was comprised of two representatives respectively, from the student body, the faculty, support staff, Senate, and the BoG. The Committee was chaired by Cobbett, who noted that the Committee began its search by first holding 30 consulting sessions with the McGill community in April and May of last year.
“Once we got a sense from the community as to what [it] saw as the challenges facing McGill over the next five to 10 years, we then went back to the drawing board and worked up what we call a ‘candidate profile’ or a ‘position profile,’” Cobbett told the Tribune.
The Committee then drafted a list comprised of 85 people who had expressed interest in the position. This list included both Canadian and international applicants, and was gradually narrowed down to approximately 25 candidates, then, seven.
Finally, the seven candidates on the list were interviewed in November and December 2012, after which, the Committee chose Fortier.
“It’s always a difficult decision when you are choosing somebody for a position of this significance and this profile, and … we had a number of very, very good candidates,” Cobbett said. “We were fortunate that the search brought forward a lot of very, very impressive individuals. But ultimately, we decided that Dr. Fortier is the best for McGill at this time.”
Cobbett emphasized that Fortier’s experience made her stand out among the rest.
Fortier has served in a number of senior administrative positions at Queen’s University, including associate dean of graduate studies and research, vice-principal (research), and vice-principal (academic). Currently, she is the President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), a position she has held for seven years, and will have to leave in order to join McGill.
“At NSERC … she was running one of the principal granting agencies – and not only running it, she restructured it, re-organized it, so she has whole a lot of proven administrative and managerial skills in addition, of course, to being a top-flight academic, and a very empathetic person, somebody who appears to have a collegial management style,” Cobbett said.
The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) President Josh Redel, who also sits on the BoG, expressed that he is very pleased with Fortier’s appointment.
“I think she is an excellent choice, and her passion for McGill will go a long way,” he said. “In addition, her unwavering commitment to become the next principal despite the incredible challenges that McGill is facing, or is about to face, will do this school well.”
Fortier will be joining McGill at a time when the tuition debate has reignited, and the university’s budget is facing major cutbacks from the provincial government.
“The principal has to be somebody who understands the importance of public policy, and understands the importance of relationships with the government, both provincial and federal because they are our principle funding sources,” Cobbett said. “You need somebody, obviously, who is very sensitive to both financial requirements and limitations, and Dr. Fortier has all of that.”
Fortier said she believes she is up for the job, despite these impending challenges.
“I have certainly, both when I was at Queen’s and in my current job … had to deal with cuts in budgets, and the exercise that one must engage in defining … the values, the principles, and the goals that will drive the exercise, [while] making sure that you protect the core, the essential part of your organization,” she said.
Jonathan Mooney, secretary-general of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) and a BoG member, hopes that Fortier will strengthen the relationship between Quebec society and McGill, something he said was very important to the BoG in the selection of the new principal.
“McGill is often perceived as an enclave that is really distinct from the rest of the Quebec,” he said. “Madame Fortier will serve as an embodiment of the link between McGill and Quebec in her role, and will also bring a vision for how McGill and Quebec society have a lot to gain from each other.”
Fortier is a McGill graduate, having received both her Bachelor’s of Science and PhD at the university. She is also a Quebec native, and attended school in Saint-Timothée, a small rural village in the province. She expressed excitement about returning to her home province and to McGill.
“There is a real sense for me of a strong link with McGill, with Montreal, with Quebec,” she told The Tribune. “It’s a place that has given me so many opportunities [and has been] a launching pad in my career, so I am profoundly attached to these places.”
SSMU Vice-President University Affairs Haley Dinel, who was a student representative on the Advisory Committee for Nomination of the Principal, pointed to Fortier’s personable attitude towards students as something which stood out in her candidacy.
“Dr. Fortier is a very approachable person,” Dinel said. “Whether it’s students or student leaders, she has a willingness to understand and communicate with us.”
Mooney agreed, calling Fortier’s references impressive.
“The references and stories presented to the [BoG] indicated that Madame Fortier frequently spent time with students at Queen’s and was at ease with them,” Mooney said. “She also seems [to] value the importance of student leadership.”
Munroe-Blum will end her term as principal on June 30, 2013. An acting principal will fill the post in July and August, and Fortier will begin her duties in September.