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Monthly Archives: June 2014

I wrote in the 3 March 2014 posting that “the provost’s office looks inept when they try to show off”. Although the people in that office are usually superb, they clearly did not heed my warning. The open session of today’s board meeting began with another pair of their dog-and-pony-shows that utterly wasted the board’s time. This began with a presentation (not a discussion) of Carleton’s new so-called leadership program. Katherine Graham kept emphasizing how the primary purpose of this program was to break down silos, especially between administration, faculty, and staff (okay, she also emphasized how the program would make Carleton more ‘leaderful’, whatever that tortured adjective means). However, she and Cindy Taylor also kept emphasizing how the leadership program has three separate streams: one for people who only deal with their home units, another for people who work across more units, and another for people who work with university-wide programs. That sounds like old-fashioned hierarchical silo-building to me. We also heard some great vacuous quotes, such as “the sum is greater than the parts”. This leadership program may be good, but the board certainly had no way of seeing that.

Katherine Graham followed this with a summary of how Carleton was meeting its targets from the strategic plan by handing everyone a copy of what may have been one of the world’s worst graphics. I am attaching it here; see if you can interpret all the chart-junk and utterly extraordinary redundancies. Also note from this graphic that nothing about our strategic plan looks integrated! It is ironic that, a few months ago, the board found it to be too much minutiae getting involved with the lack of vetting of special assistants to the provost, yet one of those special assistants then wasted almost a half-hour of every board members’ time.

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The building committee reported in open session that the proposed new residence building has slipped until at least 2017. The building committee then reported that the vice president finance said this was good news because of projected lower demand for such a residence. This goes back to my mantra that Carleton needs to stop erecting so many new buildings when we can pretty much guarantee that enrolments will drop by 8% in the near future. If buildings are falling apart, then by all means replace them, but stop building new capacity.

Speaking of new capacity, the building committee also reported in open session that the proposed new health building is in very preliminary stages of consultation. This was quite a change from the apparent rush that we heard about in open session on 29 April 2014. At that meeting two months ago, the vice president finance promised to get back to the board about how the remaining $12.4 million of a health building would be financed at today’s open session, but today he volunteered no such information.

At the 27 March 2014 board meeting, there was lively discussion about tuition freezes, with it resolved that the students, administration, and board would submit a joint letter to the provincial government on this matter. Action on this is being deferred until September for several reasons, some of which may be specious. First, the recent provincial election. Second, summer is here. Third, the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) is planning on submitting a similar letter on behalf of their members that covers both tuition freezes and increases in the provincial funding formula. The university president offered up the possibility that Carleton could be a signatory to a pair of letters, our own one and the COU letter. This might be especially poignant in light of the new minister of training colleges and universities (MTCU), Reza Moridi, who is also minister of research and innovation (MRI).

If my notes are correct, the university president mentioned the appointment of a new provincial special minister for labour relations and collective bargaining. I could find no record of such a position on the provincial website, including a detailed look at the minister of labour’s website. Please help me read the tea leaves as to the implications of creation of such a portfolio, especially after the debacle of the McGuinty government imposing and/or trying to impose collective agreements on teachers and other public sector workers.

The board appointed five new community members to its ranks today. What is most noteworthy is that the nominating committee apparently opted to not just appoint many more white male colleagues. I do not know how these five new board members self-identify, but suspect that three of the five are women. The board truly needs this increased diversity. Kudos.

This blog has and will continue to express my opinions. However, on this rarest of occasions, I am including content by request. At the supper following the board meeting, the university president stated that she hoped to see me blog about the following token gift, much like Richard Braughtigan wanting to end his book “Trout Fishing in America” with the word ‘mayonnaise’. And so, as a fitting way to end the first successful year of blogging on the Carleton University Board of Governors, I hereby honour President Runte’s request with a photo courtesy of Professor Sue Bertram and the title page of an article from the most recent issue of the Carleton University Magazine (Spring 2014).

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In the 9 April 2014 issue of University Affairs magazine, David K. Foot, an economist from University of Toronto, wrote a concise article (here) about impending enrolment decreases due to demographics. Population decreases for the age-group finishing high school is not news. Our vice president finance has been warning us for several years about an impending 8% enrolment decline (see my 3 December 2013 posting and/or click here for the data). What is most interesting about David Foot’s article is his primary recommendation for what universities should do about this expected enrolment decline: “First, do not expand capacity. By all means upgrade outdated facilities and replace buildings where necessary, but don’t create additional space.”

Carleton certainly has plenty of outdated facilities in need of upgrading. Recent campus-wide electrical failures should be a hint. There is also flooding in many buildings, excessive indoor temperatures in both winter and summer, many non-functioning elevators and automatic doors for those in wheelchairs, etc. In the face of decreasing enrolments, we should be revitalizing existing infrastructure, not erecting building for new programs.

Antithetically, Carleton is proposing to take the exact opposite tack by constructing a new $35 million health science building, a department that currently has only one faculty member. We also lack a medical school, nursing school, dental school, pharmacy school, veterinary school, public health program, kinesiology program, epidemiology program, and pretty much any other form of health related program. I could almost (but not quite) tolerate this errant expense for a new health building if it was someone else’s money. In the past, Carleton’s academic buildings have all been constructed directly out of provincial infrastructure funds. But, at the 29 April 2014 open session of the board, the vice president finance stated that the new health science building would be constructed by the board’s approval of long-term debt. The budget that was approved that day allocated the first $22.6 million of that long-term debt for this new academic building. This seems like an especially reckless move for a fiscally conservative university.

The flip side of this story is to try to compensate for demographics by somehow bringing in more students from different cross-sections of the population. Last time the population at-large went through a trough in the cycle, universities compensated by admitting more female students, which was fabulous. But that won’t help again now that a majority of university students are already female. David Foot suggests recruiting huge numbers of international students, a market that Carleton’s president has been trying to tap into since her arrival a half-dozen years ago, but that also isn’t making that much of a difference. If we have any chance of smoothing through an 8% decrease in enrolment, we will need to do something more radical.

Let me propose one such radical solution, one that could also greatly increase the diversity of our student body, which is still quite white. Look to that most progressive of jurisdictions, namely Texas. Yes, I am being somewhat facetious, knowing that Texas is sufficiently backwards that for most of my lifetime the federal courts objected to disparities in primary and secondary school funding because schools were being financed by local property taxes. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Justice continually badgers the state of Texas about civil rights violations. But Texas has figured out a creative way to simultaneously make post-secondary education more diverse and increase enrolments, even in an era when the U.S. courts have repudiated affirmative action. Texas established a program by which any student who graduated in the top 10% (now 7%) of their high school class could enroll in any state university of their choice.

Carleton could do something similar to Texas. We could say that the top 10% (or pick some other percent) of any Ontario public high school graduating class would be automatically admitted into any program of their choice at Carleton. It does not matter whether you are in the top 10% of your class at an elite Toronto public high school, a public high school for so-called ‘gifted students’, a poor inner city high school, a small rural agricultural high school, or an aboriginal high school. Furthermore, we could and should extend such a program to the top 10% of students from any indigenous high school outside of the province, guaranteeing provincial tuition or better for any First Nations, Inuit, or Métis students. This will drastically increase our enrolments and level the playing field between high school students that live in poor versus wealthy communities.

I admit that such a radical idea will require extra funding to help support students, especially those who entered Carleton from communities with less money and other disadvantaged students. As Paul Tough wrote in the 15 May 2014 New York Times (here): “About a quarter of college freshmen born into the bottom half of the income distribution will manage to collect a bachelor’s degree by age 24, while almost 90 percent of freshmen born into families in the top income quartile will go on to finish their degree.” Therefore Carleton could and probably should beef up programs like the Student Academic Success Centre, the Science Student Success Centre, the Aboriginal Student Centre, Paul Menton Centre, etc. This seems like a far better way to spend an extra $35 million, i.e. spending on people rather than on new buildings that are not intended to replace crumbling ones.

While voting down a debt-financed health science building falls under purview of the Board’s building and finance committees, my suggestion about a Texas style approach to increasing enrolment and student diversity does not seem to fall under the auspices of any Board of Governors or Senate committee. Sometimes it is more than just students that fall through the proverbial cracks. Let’s see if we can do better. Thanks.