McGill promises to hire more Black professors, but the statue of its founder will stay

Heading into its 200th year, McGill is promising to strengthen its relationship with the Black community in the city, hire more Black professors and recruit more Black students. But the statue of James McGill, a slave owner, will stay for now.

New anti-Black racism plan unveiled as storied university celebrates its bicentennial

McGill University is promising to better address anti-Black racism but a statue of James McGill, who owned slaves, will remain near the entrance of the campus, at least for now. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Heading into its 200th year, McGill University is promising to strengthen its relationship with the Black community in the city, hire more Black professors and recruit more Black students as part of a new anti-racism plan.

There are no immediate plans, however, to move the statue of James McGill, the university's founder, from its spot near the Roddick Gates, despite growing pressure to do so following a report this summer documenting his history as a slave owner.

Instead, the university will add a plaque that includes "his connections to, and involvement with, the transatlantic slave trade and his ownership of enslaved peoples."

"This was a terrible practice that existed at the time and I think it's important to understand what his history is and to make sure we are truthful about it," Christopher P. Manfredi, the university's provost, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

"The role of a university is as an educational institution, so I think our approach is really to contextualize the statue."

Listen to the interview here:

The university said it would set aside $15 million over five years toward the plan.

"McGill University is at a critical juncture for addressing its engagement with Black communities in Quebec, Canada, and worldwide," says the 44-page report, which was produced following consultations with Black staff, students and alumni.

In particular, the report commits to hiring 40 Black tenure-track or tenured professors by 2025, and 85 by 2032.

There are currently 14 at the university, representing 0.8 per cent of its permanent academic staff.

The plan includes ideas on how to better support Black academic staff and increase the representation of, and career opportunities for, Black administrative and support staff.

The university also commits to increasing scholarship opportunities for "underrepresented student demographic groups," improving the student experience and making connections with historically Black colleges in the United States.

Jemark Earle, a Black McGill student and president of the McGill student council, said while the plan addresses concrete issues and the money is important, the statue has got to go.

"I think that what's in the plan right now — it says they're going to be assessing and determining its most suitable setting — that sounds like it's just going to be moved somewhere else and to me, that's not good enough," he told Daybreak.

Earle said he believes it's a start that the university is acknowledging James McGill's past as a slave owner.

But he said having 85 Black tenure-track professors and contributing money to things like Black History Month and Black grad don't mean much if the statue stays.

"It's like yes, we're acknowledging you, but we're also still going to have this statue here that's going against everything we're committing this money to."

Charmaine Nelson, a former McGill professor, produced a report with students about the university's colonial roots. (Submitted by Charles Michael)

McGill has faced growing calls to address its colonial roots. Last year, it agreed to change the name of its men's varsity sports teams, the Redmen, following criticism from Indigenous students, faculty and staff.

Charmaine Nelson, a former professor at the university, released a report with students this past summer calling out the school's ties to colonialism and highlighting the struggles that staff and students who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour still face today.

Nelson has since left for NSCAD University in Halifax, where she plans to set up an institute for studying Canadian slavery.


For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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