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Tribune Explains: The search for McGill’s new Principal

During a media roundtable on Aug. 24, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Fabrice Labeau answered questions about the changing leadership at McGill ahead of Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier’s departure on Sept. 6. //The McGill Tribune// asked all the burning questions about the responsibilities of this crucial campus figure. 

What is the role of the Principal and Vice-Chancellor? 

As the chief executive officer of McGill, the Principal serves as the university’s representative to external bodies such as research boards and global forums. They also work to improve and maintain the university’s status as a leading research institution by directing McGill’s operations and finances. The Principal holds seats on McGill’s Board of Governors (BoG) and Senate. Every Principal serves a five-year term with the possibility of renewal at the end of their first term. In their role as Vice-Chancellor, they also serve as the deputy to the Chancellor, taking on some of their duties such as presiding over convocation and representing the university at official events. 

During her tenure, Fortier’s priorities included providing all students with a stimulating education, supporting research, creating and upholding community relationships, building a healthy workplace environment for staff members, and transforming the campus into a safer and more sustainable environment. To achieve these goals, Fortier launched projects such as SKILLS21, My Healthy Workplace, and the Sustainability Sciences and Technologies Initiative

Who will take over the duties of the Principal once Suzanne Fortier leaves?

Current Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Christopher Manfredi will serve as Interim Principal and Vice-Chancellor while Deputy Provost Labeau and Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies) Angela Campbell share some provostial duties. 

This arrangement will last until a new Principal is appointed by the BoG based on nominees recommended by the Advisory Committee for the Selection of the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, which was formed in March. Despite the personnel changes, Labeau stressed that the university will continue to run smoothly.

“All [of our initiatives] will continue without being interrupted,” Labeau said. “The fact that our Principal is currently stepping down and there will be another Principal in a few months doesn’t mean that everything in this university stops. We will basically continue what we are doing.”

What is the Advisory Committee and who are the members?

The Advisory Committee is in charge of finding and nominating candidates for Principal to the BoG. It is composed of 14 members led by the Chair, Maryse Bertrand, and Chancellor John McCall MacBain. The remaining 12 members were either appointed or elected by different university stakeholders, including the BoG, the Senate, the McGill Alumni Association (MAA), the McGill Association of University Teachers (MAUT), the administrative and support staff, and student associations. In addition, the committee includes a Secretary and two Search Consultants from the executive search firm Perrett Laver

What is the Advisory Committee looking for in a candidate? 

The Advisory Committee has several criteria guiding its search, such as experience with directing institutional change and the “ability to ensure the financial sustainability of a large and complex organization.” According to Labeau, these criteria exist to ensure the candidate can fulfill McGill’s institutional priorities, including elevating its stance as a global leader and maintaining positive relationships with the Government of Quebec. 

When will a new Principal be named? 

Though timelines may vary, Labeau anticipates the search to be completed within the next couple of months. He said, however, that the McGill community should expect to live with uncertainty surrounding the process; the committee’s proceedings are confidential and a new Principal may not be able to start right away. 

“The variability that comes from this is that, once this committee has a recommendation for the Board [of Governors] and a preferred candidate is identified, it may take a while before this person can actually start up,” Labeau said. “Or it may happen right away, depending on the circumstances of the [appointed candidate such as] where they are from, where they are employed, et cetera.” 

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