Seating arrangements at the Carleton University Board of Governors were still “us versus them”, with the board chair, vice-chair, university secretary, general counsel, and senior management on one side of the board table and all other board members – up to 28 of them – on the other side of the board table. This is emblematic of hierarchical or autocratic governance, not collegial governance.
Curiously, at this meeting at which a new university president was appointed during closed session, the outgoing university president was not in attendance, but phoned in, and did not even speak until more than one-hour had passed in the open session.
The outgoing interim university president said that, “negotiations with CUPE 2424 were sadly challenging because they prevented us from keeping our pension plan healthy.” The vice-president finance then immediately chimed in that we will lose control over our pension plan if the Jointly Sponsored Pension Plan is imposed or if CUPE 2424 gets its way. I am not sure what he meant by ‘gets its way’. The chair of the board’s finance committee said that our “pension plan is being managed responsibly.” He based this assertion on the $129 million balance in the pension reserve fund being almost equal to the payment of 10% of the retirement fund’s balance (~$123 million) if the Provision for Adverse Deviation (PfAD) goes into effect, although he then said that the PfAD regulations may never be brought into force because of the provincial election in six weeks. The one obviously good aspect of PfAD, should it come into force, would be that it will place restrictions on employer pension contribution holidays.
Today’s show-and-tell was on basketball. In the past five years, donors have given $1 million to Carleton basketball: 80% of that to the men’s basketball team and 20% to the women’s basketball team. There was no mention that such gross gender disparities were or would be offset by internal funds, probably because nobody thinks this matters, even though the women’s basketball team did far better than the men’s team this year. To summarize, regarding Carleton’s basketball teams, the administration highlighted gross gender inequality…and the Board of Governors literally applauded this.
The president’s written report included the following fascinating passage:
Like many universities and institutions across Canada, Carleton is struggling to come to terms with the meaning of self-identification as it applies to indigenous faculty, staff and students. This is a highly charged issue that is becoming more important to resolve as we move into affirmative action programs to enhance representation from Indigenous peoples on campus. The president will be working with the Indigenous community to develop a way to facilitate discussion on this matter in the next several months.
There were questions about why Carleton cannot keep an equity officer, having gone through three in the past three years, with latest one saying that they will retire during summer 2018.
The chair of the board’s governance committee reported hiring a consultant to review best governance practices for university boards of governors, including board activities and composition of the board. The vice-chair of the board corrected him, saying that the study will not look at board composition, but instead will look at recruitment of new members. Composition of the board is stipulated in the Carleton University Act as 32-members comprised of the chancellor, vice-chancellor, and 30 other members. That is why I have advocated that the 30 other members be half internal and half external governors, a change that the board can make via a bylaw change.
The chair of the governance committee implored members to submit annual board surveys, stating that the surveys are anonymous, but that he somehow knows who did not respond to the survey. Is that Orwellian anonymity?
The official Board of Governors communications from the open session, which were posted on the board’s website and e-mailed to all Carleton e-mail addresses, claimed that the board approved a balanced budget on 30 April. This is a charade that has continued for many years. This year Carleton supposedly had a $10 million surplus, but this surplus was appropriated at the March 2018 board meeting, so that the budget could look balanced in April 2018. I am no expert, but this seems like a peculiar accounting practice. The press release after the meeting mentioned $52 million for a new business building, but failed to mention a report from the chair of the board’s building committee stating that when the project was recently put out for tender that all bids came in way over the $52 million price tag. The bids were sufficiently high that nobody at the board’s open session would say how high nor ask for more money. And $52 million does not even include costs for the future fifth floor fit-up, a floor that the supposedly will remain completely unfinished for a few years. Carleton business school enrolment has NOT changed since 2010 (here), but for some reason the business school needs this brand new expensive space. Using a similar tack, today the board approved an extra $9 million expenditure to finish two floors of the new health building, thereby padding the $52 million price by an additional 17%. I wonder if this is standard accounting and budgeting practice. As Tom Waits once said, “The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away.”
The vice-president finance said that there is absolutely no indication that the CUE 2424 strike affected enrolments for the upcoming year academic year. The vice-president for students and enrolment sat silently as he said this.
The operating budget this year is $505 million plus a $70 million ancillary budget. The government grant now only counts for 34% of revenue, whereas tuition counts for 61% of revenue. The remaining 5% of revenue comes from things like investments and donations. We are quickly approaching a 1:2 ratio of government grants-to-tuition, whereas just a few years ago the ratio was 2:1. Furthermore, the province has largely stopped paying for new academic buildings, meaning that Ontario universities are acting more and more like for-profit fiefdoms.
The operating budget contained the following capital expenses:
Health building: $52.0 million (+ $9 million fit-up)
Business building: $52.0 million (plus eventual cost of fit-up)
ARSE building: $29.5 million
Energy retrofit: $20.5 million
Co-generation: $20.7 million
While not yet approved by the Financial Planning Group (FPG) nor the Board of Governors, the administration supposedly has well-developed plans for the following additional capital projects, with approximate costs provided by the vice president finance:
Gym: $11 million
Unicentre: $38 million
Parking over O-Train: $25 million
Condo-style residence: TBD
Engineering building TBD
The vice-president finance stated that window of opportunity for the new 600+ space parking garage, which would be an additional three floors to the existing P7 lot, will be short because it can only be built when the O-Train is out of service, which will occur in the next few years (April 2010 – September 2021). However, the board’s building committee chair stated that a study on parking and transportation (auto, bicycle, pedestrian) at Carleton has not yet begun. This is putting the proverbial cart before the horse or maybe putting parking before cars arrive (see next paragraph). The capital reserve fund currently stands at $121 million.
Soon Carleton will have lots of new buildings, but without any new students. For the 2018/2019 academic year, undergraduate enrolment is projected to remain constant and graduate enrolment to increase by 3%. There is really no need for new parking given that the O-Train will soon be greatly expanded, making access to campus much easier via rail, during a period when the province is imposing a corridor model for enrolment, thereby providing disincentives for enrolment increases.
The above capital expense numbers do not count the purchase of Dominion-Chalmers church and its needed renovations. The board was told that negotiations on this church purchase were now extremely close to being completed, with just minuscule contractual details to be resolved. But the board has been told that at every open session in 2018.
As usual, the board was told how salary (54%) plus pensions (7%) plus other benefits (4%) count for a majority of annual expenditures (67%), which seems totally reasonable in a sector like education. But this is probably an anathema to corporate captains and government gurus.
A board member asked why Carleton’s financial projections are only given as a single point-estimate per year, rather than as a range or at least three point estimates per year, representing conservative, moderate, and liberal projections. The vice-president finance and the chair of the board’s finance committee seemed to agree to this tack for future budgets.
This blog post reflects my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of the Carleton Board of Governors. This posting is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting nor for the official summary. As always, I welcome your feedback.