3 May 2021

For two years, I have taken a break from following Carleton’s Board of Governors. Today, in order to answer a simple query, I waded back into the board’s documents and was surprised by how much interesting material they contained. While I am not promising to resurrect my regular blog about board business, at least allow me to provide you with some highlights from the open session documents from last week’s Board of Governors meeting.

Pandemic Contingency Fund

Buried deep in the board’s consent agenda, was this tidbit:

The Pandemic Contingency Fund was established in April 2020 with an opening balance of $26.8M. To date, $17M in funding has been provided for additional cleaning, student support, transition to online learning, and other pandemic related costs. A provision for Bad Debts (students non-payment of fees) of $2M has been earmarked. Approximately $10M remains in the Pandemic Contingency Fund.

This is the first I ever heard that a pandemic contingency fund even existed, let alone has existed for over a year, has spent $17 million, and still has $10 million unspent. Such a fund is a great idea. What can it be spent on?

Ancillary Budget

Various administrative portions of the university are supposed to be self-funding, i.e. have revenues exceed expenditures. These units include housing, food, athletics, printing, health services, bookstore, and parking. In the past, these units have been strictly held to this model, with the only exception being that athletics was provided an extra $1 million per year from the operating budget for men’s football. The pandemic, however, has understandably wreaked havoc on this self-funding model, with a projected deficit of $32.5 million. The board therefore moved $22.5 million from the new operating budget to the ancillary budget to make up for these shortfalls; the remainder is being funded by accumulated ancillary surpluses of $42.5 million.

Reputation and Branding

The board approved $1.4 million for next year for enhancing reputation and branding. Being from New Mexico, I always thought branding was for cattle and that reputation was something you earned, not purchased.

Student Recruitment

As the pandemic continues, I suspected that Carleton’s aggressive attempts to offer in-person classes in the upcoming fall term have been largely driven by competing with other universities that were doing the same, regardless of whether any universities get to offer any in-person classes come fall. The board documents go a step further, discussing “predatory” recruitment strategies by other provincial universities, albeit with a needless swipe at unions and while whining about Carleton not having a medical school:

Carleton’s enrolment projections for 2021-22 represent a 3% reduction in first-year intake at both the domestic and international levels, with an overall 2% reduction in undergraduate FTE and 1% reduction in graduate FTE. This reduction is driven by a number of factors, most notably a rapid change in demand toward health and medical programs along with a predatory over-enrolment strategy from select Ontario universities. It is expected that this over enrolment pattern is unsustainable in the medium to long term as Faculty union collective agreements and available physical space will constrain this strategy. As a result, Carleton anticipates a return to moderate, steady enrolment growth aligned with demographic growth trends in subsequent years.

Parking Garages

Finally, what would this blog be without discussion of parking garages? The university is somewhat improving with respect to parking. The following information is from the joint meeting of the board’s building and finance committees of 17 November 2020.

The old parking garage, P9, between the soon-to-be-renamed Robertson Hall and physical plant has been crumbling for at least the past 15 years, requiring approximately $1 million in repairs each summer. The joint committees approved replacing P9 with a new garage to the north that will replace the flat parking lot P4 which is between the pool/gym and the O-Train station. The cost for this is projected to be $40-45 million, which is a substantial amount of money if parking revenues are to exceed expenditures. Why not just keep forking out $1 million per year on repairs to P9 until the pandemic ends and/or the provincial government prioritizes education again?

The newly built parking garage at P4 will have 180 fewer parking spaces than the old P9 (from 800 old parking spaces to, presumably, 620 new parking spaces, but the arithmetic is not that explicit in the joint committee report). Carleton would be greener with a reduction in parking, assuming that the board does not then turn around and rebuild P9 or another garage after they demolish P9.

There was discussion about the P4 location between pool/gym and O-Train being suitable for an academic building, to which the university president asserted that this location is “too far from the academic core.” My colleagues in biology will probably wonder why that does not also apply to them.

Finally, this blog would not be complete without linking parking to men’s football. A member of the board asked about constructing a tunnel from the new parking garage at the P4 site to the men’s football field. That idea was dismissed for being too expensive. Surprisingly it was not dismissed for being silly. Is the football stadium wheel-chair accessible? Do able-bodied people need indoor access to an outdoor stadium? Do we need a new tunnel during a pandemic?

Concluding Remarks

As always, I welcome your feedback. This blog post purely represents my opinions based on reading open-source documents from the board’s 625th meeting.

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