CAUT censure of Carleton University
The chair of the board declined an explicit request from a governor to allow any discussion of CAUT censure during the open session, instead shunting all discussion of censure to the closed session. Ironically, CAUT is considering censure because of lack of openness and transparency on the part of Carleton’s Board of Governors.
Since April 2015, i.e. for two years, special constables had been guarding the Board of Governors boardroom at and immediately before meeting times, only allowing entry to those officially approved by the university secretary. These special constables had not only set-up checkpoints at the boardroom door, but also at each floor of the elevator and stairwell near the boardroom. That was all missing today, where I did not see any special constables by the boardroom. That is a fantastic policy change.
Too bad there were only three chairs in the boardroom today other than at the board table, i.e. at most three chairs for those not specially designated for board members and advisors to the board. And one of those three chairs was occupied by the director of facilities management and planning, who was mute for the entire open session, leaving only two chairs for guests. Two chairs is too few.
Recording of open session
Yet again, the board heard that open sessions were live streamed, but not recorded. Yet again, the board heard that open sessions were audio taped, but that the tape would be destroyed once minutes were drafted. This not only violates Appendix A of board’s bylaws, but demonstrates lack of openness and lack of transparency by destroying what should be archived public records.
Something very good but very strange happened with the board’s annual approval of the university operating budget this year. The good news was that board explicitly decided what to do with the annual surplus. In the past, these monies were simply squirreled away in unrestricted reserve funds. The strange news was that the board first approved what to do with the $38 million surplus and then subsequently approved the (remaining) ‘balanced operating budget’. I know nothing about accounting, but that seems completely backwards. Naively, I would first approve a budget that included a surplus and only after that decide how to allocate the surplus.
The board first was told about the sources of the surplus. That too is peculiar. Surpluses can be due to any extra revenues or any reduced costs, with it seeming illogical to circumscribe precisely which ones caused the surplus. Nonetheless, the board heard that revenues increased by $14.7 million due to higher than expected enrollments, resulting in a larger than expected grant from the province (but oddly not due to increased tuition from these additional students). Revenues also increased by $5.8 million because a year ago the university moved $100 million from a capital fund into equities…and the stock market did better than anticipated. The board heard that the university had $23.5 million in reduced costs due to stage-three pension solvency relief from the province.
The board approved the $38 million surplus go to four uses. The largest use of the surplus is stashing $12.2 million in the pension solvency reserve fund. This is one that I do not understand. If the province keeps granting pension relief, if the Joint Special Pension Plan (JSPP) is foisted on universities, or if bond rates increase, then there is no need for a pension solvency reserve. To me, this looks like a public relations ploy to hide unrestricted monies that will eventually be used elsewhere. Possibly for that reason, a student governor suggested that this $12.2 million instead be used for student aid, a suggestion that went absolutely nowhere, although I think it was a great idea. For those counting, after the December 2016 pension valuation, Carleton’s pension solvency concern stands at $223 million. Furthermore, Carleton just did or is about to make a $35 million special payment to the province for pension solvency, even though only $10 million was required by province. Second, from the $38 million surplus, an extra $10 million will be used for student aid endowments, contingent on matching funds from private donors. The board never said what would happen to any balance that was not matched, which seems like a peculiar omission. Third, $10 million will be used for five new endowed chairs. But then the board chair noted that each endowed chair costs $4 million, at which point the university president announced that $6 million has already been matched by private donors for endowed chairs in science, public affairs, and arts. That still leaves $4 million that has not been raised. i.e. there may be one fewer endowed chair. Fourth, from the surplus, $6 million will be shunted to the Investment Income Equalization fund. This smooths through poor years for the university’s investments, should they occur, especially as more is invested in higher-risk financial instruments. If the investments do as well as expected this year, can we assume that this amount will be carried forward or will this $6 million instead by moved to unrestricted reserve funds?
The vice president finance said he does not expect any budget shortfalls until at least 2022/2023, if not later. Lack of austerity bodes well for unions in collective bargaining and should bode well for students asking for things like tuition freezes or tuition waivers for graduate students.
Once the board approved what to do with the surplus, then they considered and approved the so-called balanced operating budget. The slides from the vice-president finance even explicitly stated that the goal was to balance the budget. While I think this vice-president is superb, that assertion stretches credulity.
The remainder of this blog post contains various tidbits, mostly gleaned from the vice-president finance’s excellent and informative presentation on the operating budget.
Carleton filed its draft Strategic Mandate Agreement with the province on 17 April 2017. This means that the university senate never approved nor was asked to approve the draft. How can the most crucial academic document in the university be so devoid of senate oversight?
One debacle with the Strategic Mandate Agreement is that Carleton will not be allowed to grow any programs, at least for the next two years while the province keeps post-secondary education budgets flat while they try to sort out a funding framework and differentiation. The problem is that Carleton has recently introduced a plethora of boutique new programs. Is there any way for the university to reconcile these contradictory forces? Can the province be persuaded to cut us some slack on this? Stay tuned for wishful thinking. The university president stated that she does not even think that University of Toronto will be allowed to get away with their massive proposed cuts to undergraduate enrollment (in exchange for a larger provincial to reward all their research activities), so it is not obvious how much leverage Carleton can have at Queen’s Park.
Another problem with the Strategic Mandate Agreement is that the university president blatantly refuses to tell the board what is being proposed in our draft. She refused to tell board members who asked what our boutique metrics will be, with the rationale that she does not want University of Ottawa to get wind of this, so that they don’t emulate Carleton. I could understand moving such discussions to closed session, but to simply refuse to tell board members what you are doing seems wrong. In a similar vein, when the university president mentioned that Carleton was only one of two provincial universities that are balanced between research and teaching and the vice-chair of the board asked who was the other such university, the university president responded that this was too sensitive to answer. So much for openness and transparency.
The vice-president finance showed a slide demonstrating that number of students is increasing at a higher rate than the number of faculty is increasing and that both numbers are increasing at roughly constant rates. There’s one key performance indicator, student-faculty ratio, down the toilet for Carleton. Not too surprisingly, that slide was NOT in the slide deck provided to the public.
The university is investing monies into at least three new buildings. The ARSE (Advanced Research in Smart Environments) building is still budgeted to cost $29.5 million, half of which Carleton is paying out of our own pockets. The new health building’s cost is now estimated to be $52 million, up by about $3 million since last reported at a board open session. An additional $8 million of Carleton funds are going towards design of the new business building. The business building design is to be completed this August, with go ahead for final construction to be decided by the board in early fall 2017.
The vice-president finance said two things about salaries. First, in response to a question from an external board member, he said that Carleton “salaries are in the fair range” and “not in the high range” and that “we are NOT overpaying our people”. Second, in a discussion of pension projections, he said that our pension estimates are based on 4.7% annual salary increases. The university president quickly chirped in that we are not giving any employees those levels of salary increases. But at least this gives bargaining units a decent goal (or ceiling?) for what to bargain for.
The vice-president research proposed a motion to reallocate $9.8 million from a reserve fund designated for the matching portion of a Canada First – Research Excellence Fund (CF-REF) grant in aerospace engineering, an expenditure that was approved by the board last year. The problem was that Carleton was not awarded the external grant, so cannot spend the previously appropriated $9.8 million matching portion. The vice-president research basically suggested that this almost ten million dollars be re-allocated to many smaller projects, with the proviso that his office will have discretion how to spend these funds to promote other research grants. He suggested that these could possibly be used for NSERC Strategic Partnership Development grants and Canada Excellence in Research Chairs, both of which (I believe) tend to make Canadian research funding less equitable. There was a fair amount of contention regarding this motion. One external governor said that “this re-allocation does not smell right.” One internal governor asked that some of these funds also go to fund infrastructure. But, in the end, as invariably happens with motions proposed by the administration, this motion passed without amendment.
This blog posting reflects my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of the Carleton University Board of Governors. This posting is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting. As always, I welcome your feedback.