The renovation of the Moyse Hall stage is the most recent in a series of initiatives to crowdfund for university spaces and services. Last year, the Arts Internship Office (AIO) was also crowdfunded following provincial budget cuts. Although many of these campaigns involve reaching out to alumni and philanthropists, in many of these cases students and faculty members spearheaded the fundraising efforts. McGill is doing what it can within a context of provincial austerity measures; there is, unfortunately, not a bottomless pot of funds. Crowdfunding is therefore a necessary innovation. But in considering the merits of crowdfunding, one must recall that McGill passing the buck to students and alumni is an unsustainable necessity borne of provincial economic conditions.
The university does extensive amounts of fundraising through the Alumni Online Community (AOC) and Development and Alumni Relations (DAR); however, these funds go into the university’s operating budget, a relatively opaque process, so some donors do not necessarily see where their money has gone. By contrast, 100 per cent of the funds raised on Seeds of Change go directly to the cause at hand. Ambassadors of a crowdfunding campaign represent themselves rather than the overall McGill image, donors know what their money is paying for, and the overall process is expedited by avoiding the bureaucratic loopholes that exist at McGill. The results have been clear so far: The Moyse Hall Theatre Project has already met half its goal within a week. Crowdfunding has the potential to be a more transparent and direct source of financial assistance. By providing organizational and technical support, Seeds of Change enables student ambassadors and faculty members to reach their goals. Within the context of continued economic hardship, the popularity and success of crowdfunding is a welcome relief from continuing rounds of budget cuts.
Through crowdfunding, students to receive services that would otherwise not be provided by the administration. Frequently, there are issues of which the university is not made aware, but often the issue lies not in McGill’s unwillingness but its inability to provide funding. Moyse Hall has been helped in the past by the Arts Improvement Fund, but in this case the crowdfunding campaign was dependent on the interests of donor. For instance, the smart water bottle fountains dotted around campus were crowdfunded, and there is a recent project to crowdfund for a plesiosaur fossil cast for Redpath Museum. Varsity and club teams, such as figure skating, Martlet’s soccer and hockey, and sailing, have also crowdfunded for their equipment and to help pay for competitions.
While this may seem like empowerment, the Quebec government must know that by cutting funds to universities and specific programs, such as the AIO, it is forcing students into an untenable situation. Despite these merits, students should not be the ones scrambling for the funds to provide for themselves.
Given the economic climate in Quebec, crowdfunding is unfortunately a necessary alternative resource for addressing specific needs. In its most recent budget, McGill took on millions of dollars in debt in order to complete necessary deferred maintenance projects; it simply does not have the funds for niche projects. McGill’s restricted budget is a product of a provincial policy by the Quebec Liberals that has steadily slashed spending on education. Certainly part of the issue is that McGill must maintain its reputation—it cannot come out and say how dire its budget situation is. The problem that arises here, however, is that it is hard as members of the greater McGill community to know what the university can and cannot account for within the greater context of Quebec austerity.
Donors to crowdfunding campaigns are usually alumni and students who hold a personal stake in the project; it is therefore also a useful indication of how much members of a community value a service or a space. In the future, the administration may be able to gauge how to allocate funds to services in the long-term based on how well a crowdfunding initiative performs. Perhaps then the black box of McGill’s budget will become more transparent.
As long as students are unwilling to pay more for their education, crowdfunding will remain a reality. In light of the recent failure of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) base fee increase referendum, this sentiment feels pertinent—students are averse to paying more for institutions with which they are disenchanted. Students already invest in their university through their tuition fee; asking students to pay again for specific projects seems like a double-payment. Dependency on crowdfunding would therefore be a dangerous habit to fall into. For dinosaurs and water fountains, crowdfunding is commendable; for long-term issues, different versions of funding are necessary. Quebec must realize that education in the province has sustained enough blows in recent years and needs relief because the ones bearing the ultimate costs are the students, not the university as an entity. The university will continue to look at big picture issues in its strategies to mitigate short-term budget constraints. Until either students or the provincial government blinks, the community of students , staff, and faculty will continue to suffer. In the meantime, students just have to provide for themselves.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that McGill’s fundraising is a relatively opaque process. In fact, most donations support programs specified by the donor. The Tribune regrets this error.