Part 2. Tuition, buildings, budgets, etc. (21 March 2016)

Tuition Increases

As seems to be an annual tradition, the board’s executive and the president’s office expected huge protests when approving tuition increases for next year. While there were no protests at or outside the boardroom, there were a large number of special constables protecting the governors. There were special constables in the stairwell, in the underground parking lot (where there were student protesters), and at the elevators. The boardroom door was protected by the director of the Department of University Security and one the department’s supervisors. As always, these peace officers were remarkably professional. Furthermore, all the blinds in the boardroom were drawn, just in case.

The vice-president finance gave essentially the same pitch as last year to justify an overall 3% increase in tuition. This made sense insofar as we are at the last of three years of the provincial funding formula. Basically, the university will pass along the maximum tuition increase allowed by the province. What makes this harder to swallow is that inflation has only been around 1.3%.

There are two groups of students who supposedly will not be saddled with any tuition increases, namely upper-year graduate students and international PhD students. The reasons for these reportedly are that collective agreement with teaching assistants freezes tuition, while we are supposedly already charging all the market can bear for international doctoral students. But there have also been questions raised by the Graduate Student Association (GSA) regarding whether these lack of increases are real (here).

The vice-president finance stated that we cannot make up for a tuition increase by shifting enrolments between various faculties, which helped us last year. He said that engineering and architecture currently are enrolled at full capacity. He also predicted that enrolments in arts and social sciences would continue to shrink, and was not corrected by the vice-president for students and enrolment when making this claim.

The vice-chair of the board then gave a short speech defending the proposed tuition increases by stating the following:

The Board of Governors is in a difficult situation with respect to tuition…something that the provincial government could do something about.

The Ontario government is tying our hands. But there are no other alternatives to a 3% tuition increase for the long-term viability of the university.

We still need to be competitive in this market, which means putting up new buildings and deferred maintenance.

While he may have been right on the first two comments, I have a difficult time justifying the $55 million expense for putting up a new health science building, in lieu of waiting for the province to fund it, as the province has done for all of our other academic buildings. That $55 million would have nicely offset tuition costs.

The board chair made a seemingly gratuitous comment that tuition needs to be raised in order to pay for salary increases agreed to in collective agreements. Scapegoating salaries is always a convenient ploy.

New building for the Business School

The dean of our business school justified a new building solely on its benefits to the university’s budgetary bottom-line. He probably made a wise decision regarding this justification in light of the rampant corporatization of Carleton’s board, but that still seemed sobering to someone like me who stays involved with a university because of its intellectual verve and (increasing limited) academic freedom.

Plans for the new building are to use up to $2.2 million from the Nichols donation to have something that is shovel-ready. The remaining cost of the building, at least as advertised today, is to wait for provincial infrastructure funding. Thus there will supposedly be no self-funding, like we had for the health science building. The board directed the advisor to the board to make sure that this $2.2 million expenditure is allowed per the Nichols donation. The board also asked that there be a condition added to terminate the expenditures or to put things in abeyance if no provincial infrastructure funds become available.

Pension

The vice-president finance stated that Carleton is looking into filing an interim pension valuation on 31 December 2016. The decision to do with will be made around August. He thinks this interim valuation will reduce Carleton’s upcoming special payment from $37 million to $25 million per year. My understanding is that this will reduce our annual special payments, but not reduce the principle owed, i.e. this will defer some of the payments until bond markets improve.

For 2015/2016, Carleton’s pension payments were roughly as follows:

$16 million normal payment

$ 9 million special payment

$ 9 million reserve fund [saved to make future payments doable]

The vice-president finance claimed that if Carleton has to participate in the planned new provincial pension program, then part-time employees could get pensions. My spin on this is that, from an equity perspective, this might also be a good thing. So, in the long-run, maybe I am in favour of the provincial pension plan.

Miscellaneous

Someone asked why the ancillary budget has not changed over the past few years for health services (clinic, counseling services, etc. – to be distinguished from health science), even though this governor perceives that there is an increasing demand for mental health services. The vice-president for students and enrolment responded that we are getting better at triaging, now with very short wait-times for psychological counseling. But she concedes that we are far from perfect. This vice-president gives beautiful “nuanced” answers.

The vice-president finance said that he believes that newly renegotiated Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs) will not have to be filed with the province for about another year, well after the new funding formula is announced by the province this fall. This is a much longer timeline for draft SMAs than mentioned by the university president at Senate one business day earlier (here). This should affect the amount of input senate gets to provide on SMAs.

Closing remarks

As always, my latest blog posts only reflect my opinions and observations from the so-called ‘open session’ of Carleton’s Board of Governors. For a more official story, please see the official minutes of the meeting once they are approved. These postings do not include any material from the so-called closed session nor from any material from confidential sources. As always, I truly welcome your comments.

 

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