24 May 2018

The most salient discussions at the board’s 24 May 2018 open session were on the new building for the business school and on university governance.

New business school building

With only one dissenting vote, the board approved a $17.1 million cost overrun for the new business building, raising the total building cost from $48 million to $65.1 million. This 36% cost overrun will be paid entirely out of unrestricted internal funds, in this instance from capital reserve funds. The $48 million estimate was part of the January 2018 cost estimator. The chairs of both the board’s finance and building committees tried to explain how one gets such a huge budgetary change in four months, blaming the Trump administration for the increased price of steel and blaming the shortage of trades-people in Ottawa to work on the construction because of ongoing renovations to the Parliament buildings. The problems with these explanations are that the US government did not impose those tariffs on Canada until a week later, on 31 May 2018, and builders and developers have long known about construction on Parliament Hill, especially to Centre Block. Between the contractors and the numerous builders and developers on Carleton’s board, how did nobody see this coming? As with the large cost overruns for other buildings on campus, I suspect this was just a ploy to garner initial approval for buildings and then string the board along to get approval for the real costs, especially when the winning bidder was apparently the same firm that put up our new health building, for which I have previously written about the ever escalating prices that the board approved.

The board was told that the business building cost overrun will result in delay of Unicentre renovations. The chair of the board’s building committee then blamed the failed Unicentre renovation referendum on this delay, but stated that there could be no delay in building the new business building, asserting that the board should not “nickel and dime” the new home of the business school, which ironically will be named for Wes and Mary Nicol. In the same breath, the chair of the building committee also claimed that other units on campus will occupy the new business building, using this as weak justification for approving this exceptionally large cost overrun.

Someone asked why the new business building was being erected in the middle of campus, rather than along Bronson Avenue as originally proposed, as a sort of beacon for the university. Currently, Carleton’s only presence on Bronson Avenue are athletic facilities and parking facilities, making us look like anti-intellectuals compared with our colleagues at University of Ottawa. The chair of the board’s finance committee responded that moving the business building to the centre of campus would free up more space for parking on the edge of campus. He then stated that he wants Carleton to double the height of the latest parking garage and to add a second large parking garage over the train tracks. That would add 1,850 new parking spaces on campus. This is at a time when the provincial government has imposed a corridor model for funding, which penalizes Carleton if there is increased enrollment. At least the business school is doing their part by having no changes in undergraduate enrollment since 2010. This is also at a time when the university president just announced that Carleton would have an overall 5% enrollment decrease this coming year, which he blamed on the CUPE 2424 strike causing a diminution in acceptances from so-called “105” applicants, i.e. those not applying directly from high school. At least the university president had the decency to call this a “strike”. By contrast, the chair of the board’s public relations and advancement committee used the euphemism “labour disruption”. It seems that the only people who will benefit by having increased parking during periods of decreased enrollment are associated with professional sports teams at Lansdowne, who run a free shuttle service for their customers (“fans”) between the Lansdowne stadium and Carleton’s new parking structures on the edge of campus.

The chair of the board’s building committee did, however, propose a possible $2 million cost savings in the new business building by adding bubbles to the concrete. While concrete pouring will be expensive for this building, especially because the plywood forms used to construct curved walls cannot be re-used, adding bubbles will decrease the volume of concrete. An external board member asked if this was safe, especially in a region prone to earthquakes. The building committee chair replied that this would be to code. The obvious retort, which did come, was wondering whether the code had ever been wrong or inadequate.

University governance

The chair of the board’s governance committee described ongoing efforts to modernize Carleton’s governance documents. Earlier that day, he had spoken to the Clerk of Senate about revising the Academic Governance of the University (AGU) document because the governance committee chair claimed that the AGU was no longer aligned with existing collective agreements. But he provided no details about this assertion nor the AGU revisions, which supposedly will come to the board for a vote at its June 2018 open session. He further stated that changes to the AGU will make it so that the Board of Governors bylaws finally cover all of Senate. While I believe this is standard practice, it also speaks to the illusion of bicameral university governance, where senates really are inferior to boards of governors.

The chair of the governance committee announced a delay in the request for proposals (RFP) regarding the study on best practices in university governance, claiming that the incoming university president wants to be involved in this process.

Closing Remarks

This blog post 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 nor for the official summary that is written before the meeting begins. As always, I welcome your feedback.

 

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