Today, U.S. News & World Report released its annual ranking of universities around the world.
Harvard and MIT, of course, took the top two spots. The Boston universities are followed by Stanford, UC Berkley, and Oxford.
TL;DR McGill needs to address some serious institutional issues if it wants to reclaim its global standing.
The University of Toronto is highest-ranked Canadian institution, coming in at number twenty globally.
But of perhaps greater note, is the absence of McGill from the top twenty. The Montreal university is often touted as the "Harvard of Canada," but has slipped in world rankings in recent years. It falls at number forty-three in the U.S. News release.
Let's be clear, such rankings are generally meaningless. They inadequately reflect the quality of students' education and offer false assurances of elite "prestige." Rankings are mostly fundraising schemes.
But McGill's fall does point to institutional issues. In fact, students have long bemoaned what feels like obstinacy from the university administration.
Take, for example, the name of the university football team, a topic which has dominated student politics and activism this semester. Many have called out the "Red Men" for inadvertently perpetuating a racial slur that targets indigenous people.
Despite recommendations from a university committee to change the name, the McGill administration appears to have dragged its feet in the execution. Reluctance to rebrand the sports team is likely an attempt to appease team fans and alumni, who, as for any university, are among the most generous donors.
In the last month, the university administration reconvened official discussions of the team name. But so far students are unsatisfied with the rate of response.
Recall, also, when hundreds of students walked out of class in spring 2018 to protest the administration's handling of accusations of sexual assault and misconduct perpetrated by university staff, particularly professors.
When calls for the university to revist its guidelines for professor-student relations and sexual misconduct disclosures first gained momentum (of course, many students had always been vocal about the issue but were ignored), the first response of the university communications machine was to deny any fault in its policies.
Then there's the issue of crumbling university infrastructure, which, admittedly, is more due to a lack of proper funding than to administration mismanagement. But deteriorating buildings and paths present accessibility issues that inhibit the movement of students and their ability to access university resources.
To be clear, McGill has demonstrated its attention to this issue. Renovations to the façades of the Arts and Macdonald Engineering Buildings are promising developments. But more needs to be done.
In sum, if McGill wishes to regain its international standing, it should work to be more responsive to student complaints and willing to defend its students' safety.
McGill's fall in the U.S. News ranking is not an academic problem, it's a social and bureaucratic one.
The Montreal university no longer deserves the title "Harvard of Canada," nor should it still cling to this moniker. The unofficial nickname betrays the university's concern for public appearance and prestige over the well-being of students. McGill should eagerly abandon its comparison to Harvard.
That would be a first step in a long process of reform.