30 January 2014 – Carleton University Board of Governors – Part 1. Open Session

Part 1. OPEN SESSION of 30 January 2014 (4:00 – 5:00 pm) [see the separate post for the Open FORUM later that day]

This blog reflects my personal views and reflections from OPEN sessions of the Carleton University Board of Governors. This blog is not meant to replace the official record that will eventually be promulgated in the minutes compiled by the secretary of the board and approved by the chair of the board.

The Board meeting started late because we had to wait for one more person in order to have a quorum. Those in attendance were their usual enthusiastic, thoughtful and concerned selves. But it bodes poorly when on the first warm evening in weeks, it is difficult getting even half the board members to show up, especially when there was free food and board members have the option of appearing via phone. Also of note was that all of the external “community” members (i.e. not students, staff nor faculty) of the Board that were physically present at the meeting were male. At least the one external board member on the phone was female, but that is still a pretty severe gender bias.

Budgets

Carleton University’s vice president of finance takes enrolment numbers each 15th of March to put together the university’s budget for the April Board of Governors meeting. Currently, an enrolment mis-estimate of 100 students translates into about $1.5 million for Carleton. The associate vice president of students and enrolment provided the latest application numbers. Thus far, it looks like our BA (an amalgamation of arts & social sciences and public affairs) projected enrolments are down by 7%, while science is up by 20%. Engineering and business projected enrolments are in between, with engineering up 7% and business up 2%. One board member suggested simply cultivating the growing programs, something that the associate vice president of students and enrolment said we would do. But I asked whether lab capacities render that impossible, at least in the sciences. The associate vice president of students and enrolment said labs would not impede enrolment growth because the largest nascent growth in science enrolment was in computer science and health science. She may be correct about computer science not being limited by capacity of teaching labs, although the historic volatility of computer science enrolments means we cannot hang our hat on that. But she cannot be right about health science, where second-year biology labs alone should limit enrolment. However, to give her credit, the following day at Senate, the associate vice president of students and enrolment mentioned possible restrictions on enlarging science enrolments because of limited lab space.

I wonder whether units throughout the university will yet again be asked to absorb a 5% budget decrease this year, as we have for the past several years, while maintaining all programs at current levels and qualities. This is especially worrisome given the seemingly good financial position that Carleton University seems to be in, as we hear at open sessions of the board. Furthermore, pension plan valuations seem vastly improved this year – see for example Air Canada’s pension – because of greatly improved long-term bond rates. Therefore Carleton should not be able to justify budget cuts again on extraordinary solvency payments.

Strategic Mandate Agreements

The university president said that some universities had their strategic mandate agreement submissions rejected. By contrast, she said that Carleton University’s strategic mandate agreement was accepted without modification by the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities (MTCU). All we were asked to do was supply up to three metrics of our choosing, plus some narratives for an additional appendix. The provost is heading up development of these boutique (“institutional”) metrics, about which he was vague. It remains to be seen how or whether these metrics will be used in the province calculating payments to individual universities. Please see my Senate blog for 31 January 2014 in which the provost gave many more details about this matter.

Other items

The university president reported that a committee has just been struck between Carleton University and the University of Ottawa to see whether there are ways the two universities can collaborate or cooperate on programs in order to save money. No details were given about what sorts of programs were being considered and no board members asked for details. The Board of Governors should probably be supplied with details at their next open session.

The university president said that she asked the “Aboriginal Vision Council” whether they wanted to present at the Board’s Open Forum. Supposedly they declined due to being busy, especially with the Aboriginal Human Library this week, but said they would like to present next year. I had never heard of the “Aboriginal Vision Council,” and a cursory internet search shows no mention of this group, making me wonder who was actually contacted.

For the proposed new residence building, there were 19 proposals, 3 short-listed, and one already selected, i.e. the selected design team has been awarded a contract. But this is just for the tentative design phase; the Board has not yet approved the whole enchilada. All this happened very quickly once the university decided in December 2013 to move from a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement to a traditional design and build.

Concluding remarks

As always, I welcome your questions and comments regarding my personal views herein. I especially encourage other board members to publicly share their insights, especially if they disagree with me. Our disagreements seem healthy, constructive, and collegial. While the Board does not operate by consensus (the Board votes on motions and follows Robert’s Rules of Order), all Board members seem to have the best interests of Carleton University in mind.

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”       – Louis Brandeis (1913: 10)

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