Queen’s has a budgetary crisis because of its own bad decisions
LETTERS TYO THE EDITOR
The Kingston Whig Standard
Monday, July 27, 2009
Queen’s University vice-principal Bill Bryck’s recent letter (“Queen’s
spending limited by legislative, contractual rules,” July 18) in
essence claims that the budgetary structure at Queen’s provides little
manoeuvring room for administrative cost-cutting and that the
operating budget must be targeted. It is clear that the essence of the
problem is the university’s reckless decision to embark on underfunded
capital projects, knowing full well that part of the financing would
have to come from the operating budget (paradoxically, a different
part of the budget, according to Bryck).
Inevitably, aspects of the operating budget, such as faculty
positions, become vulnerable in such a plan. Queen’s may have some new
buildings in the near future, but when the classes inside those
buildings balloon from large to astronomical, what value do those
It is disconcerting that the administration at Queen’s has targeted
faculty, pointing to them as the culprits for the university’s
budgetary crisis and even publicly citing erroneous figures to make it
seem as though faculty salaries are the basis of the problem. Faculty
members’ salaries account for approximately one-third of all salary
expenditure. Two-thirds of salary expenditures are on non-faculty
staff and administrators. Given that the priority of the university is
teaching classes and research, the proportion spent on faculty does
not seem overly large.
The imprudent choices of former administrations, especially in regard
to building the Queen’s Centre have left the university in jeopardy.
Queen’s badly needs to develop new academic programs and provide more
individual attention to students. I can only hope that the new
administration will reprioritize the educational mission at Queen’s.
Margaret Pappano Kingston
Queen’s falls short of transparency
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
The Kingston Whig Standard
July 24, 2009
Re: the letter from Queen’s University vice-principal Bill Bryck
(“Queen’s spending limited by legislative, contractual rules,” July 28.
The Queen’s administration and board of trustees nurture their own
cult of impotence by repeatedly telling professors, support staff and
the public how their hands are tied when funding core academic and
administrative activities. This can be done only from the operating
budget, we are told over and over, but is it really so?
Every time there is a cross-link between various budget components,
there is an implicit and real reallocation of funds, whether it be the
$107-million Queen’s Centre burden loaded onto the operating budget or
an $8-million gift to the mining engineering department being used to
fund academic and staff positions. Similarly, when a research chair is
being established, whether by public or private funds, it offsets the
salary and benefits expense from the operating budget. The operating
budget is often raided to make up the shortfall in the capital
projects funding formula.
A claim that the university has been transparent and open to its
community is disingenuous at best. Here is one example.
We are told that the operating budget is $360 million in 2009-10, $275
million (76%) of which are salaries and benefits. In the 2000-2001
budget report, we read that the total operating budget was $397
million, $270 million (68%) of which were salaries and benefits. Are
we to conclude from these data that the salaries totals at Queen’s
didn’t increase in a decade? Or that the number of employees has gone
True, the number of full-time faculty remained stagnant in that period
(870 in 2000, 840 in 2007), while senior administrative positions
increased significantly (vice-principals from three to five, associate
vice-principals from four to eight). It is no wonder, then, that the
dean of one faculty described Queen’s finances as generally opaque and
sometimes translucent, but never transparent.
Sadly, I must agree. Apparently the board of trustees agrees as well,
approving a three-year, $33-million plan for replacement of its
administrative information and financial systems, to be financed from
the operating budget over the next 12 years at a cost of $3 million
per year. The administration has known of the need to replace these
systems for 20 years. It is too bad that the administration did not
plan to do this earlier, during better economic times.
In light of these examples, claims of clarity and transparency in the
numbers fall short in building a sense of trust and partnership
between Queen’s employees and the administration.
Darko Matovic Kingston
Staff cuts to boost class size on campus: Services hurt as universities strapped for cash
By Elizabeth Church
Monday, Jul. 27, 2009
[Includes comments by Mark Jones. See below.]
A wave of staff reductions at cash-strapped universities will mean larger classes and fewer services for students at campuses this September.
The budget squeeze – the result of falling investment income and rising costs, especially for pensions – has left many universities scrambling to find millions of dollars in savings for the coming school year. With salaries accounting for the lion’s share of budgets, job losses are the inevitable result, school leaders say. That’s led to a range of actions to reduce head counts on campus, including layoffs, buyout offers, the cancellation of teaching contracts and hiring freezes.
“You’ve got to know these discussions are going on at every university in this country,” said Harvey Weingarten, president of the University of Calgary, who recently warned that as many as 200 jobs would be lost on campus this fall. Dr. Weingarten said efforts would be made to limit those cuts to areas that have the least effect on students, but he said with so much of the budget spent on salaries and benefits, staff reductions are the only way to meet the province’s requirement for a balanced budget.
While many schools say it is too soon to put a firm number on job losses, others are in talks with unions or have already taken action.
At the University of Guelph, as many as 100 teaching contracts and 30 posts for teaching assistants are in question. The exact cuts will depend on course demand and student numbers, a university spokesman said. Earlier this year 145 staff at the university accepted an early retirement package.
The University of Western Ontario was one of the first campuses to implement reductions, offering a buyout package and a phased retirement option this spring, followed by the layoff of 55 staff.
“I think it’s fair to say the system is under distress,” said Jim Butler, vice-president of finance and administration at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. Laurier is using one-time provincial funding to help bridge this year’s $8.8-million funding shortfall, but also is cutting casual workers and posts through attrition to make ends meet. The measures will mean the elimination of some smaller classes. “If there is a class of six people in it, we will not be running it,” Mr. Butler predicted.
There will also be fewer campus jobs for returning students. Cuts have already been made at the Special Constable Services, a 24-hour on-campus security hub that last year employed 32 students to work as dispatchers.
The centre responds to student emergencies, whether it’s a stolen bike or a bar brawl at the campus pub. During the school year, student dispatchers work six-hour shifts in teams of two, answering phone calls, dispatching officers during emergencies, and keeping an eye on the 236 CCTV cameras on campus.
This fall, the centre will hire 16 students, with only one working per shift.
Second-year business student Jodi Martin was a student dispatcher last year and used her earnings to help pay for tuition. She was hoping to keep the position throughout the summer but was discouraged when her manager informed her of the staffing reductions.
“I was really unimpressed by the fact that they were cutting that,” she said, adding that the centre was actually redesigned last year to accommodate two students per shift. “Especially since they had drilled it into us how important it was that there was two people there for regulations and for being able to do the job properly.”
Other schools are floating proposals for unpaid leave. Lakehead University in Thunder Bay is attempting to require staff and faculty to take days off in December and the idea of unpaid “Queen’s Days” was suggested by the administration at Queen’s University recently, but was rejected by faculty. “Clearly all this will inevitably have a significant impact on how we deliver programs,” said Patrick Deane, vice-principal academic at Queen’s. Mr. Deane said many, but not all, contract faculty will not have their appointments renewed, and proposals for early retirement packages are being discussed.
While universities say the cuts are necessary, faculty groups are attempting to gauge the severity of the situation, with some questioning the need for drastic action and warning about the effect it will have on quality. “It’s a muddied picture,” said Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. “We are trying to separate out legitimate claims of financial hardship from less legitimate claims, but it is not easy.” Mr. Turk said it is too soon to see trends in the reductions. While some schools are cutting contract faculty, others are using them as a less costly replacement for departing tenured professors. “It’s an evolving story,” he said.
As the story develops, faculty members such as Mark Jones, an English professor at Queen’s University, are troubled by the departure of talented scholars who have been told they will not be needed next year.“It’s very upsetting,” he said. “There are tremendous losses here.”
Over the past two decades, Prof. Jones said, he has watched seminar classes double or even triple in size and introductory courses swell from 50 to 200 students. He fears what further cuts will do to course offerings and the ability of the department to offer a full program.
Can higher ed reach higher? Canada’s leading universities want to, writes Paul Wells, but big dreams call for big changes
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
There’s a paradox to being the president of a large Canadian university: on most days you get to feel more influential and more powerless than most people can imagine.
In next week’s Maclean’s, we’ll talk with the presidents of Canada’s five largest universities about the challenges they face, and what they think needs fixing in our university system. It’s first worth examining, however, just how big a footprint these five make in Canada, and how Canadian universities in general stack up internationally. The institutions in question—the University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, University of Toronto, McGill University, and the Université de Montréal—are an elite bunch. They have nearly 22 per cent of Canada’s undergraduate student enrolment and produce nearly 45 per cent of the country’s doctorates.
There are nearly 100 universities in Canada, depending how you count it, but these five alone receive 46 per cent of all the money Canada’s main granting councils disburse for research every year. They receive an even larger share—47 per cent—of the money the Canada Foundation for Innovation pays to build new labs and research infrastructure.
At their best, Canada’s largest universities—call them the “G5” as they sometimes refer to themselves in private—have shown a dedication to quality, not just quantity. All by itself, the University of Toronto counts 17 of the 27 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences who serve on Canadian university faculties, and nearly half the country’s Gairdner International Award winners and Guggenheim Fellows. The future is built in these institutions.
Which is not to say they are immune to the headaches of the present. First, they face the problem every university president faces, which is that the extent they can be said to “run” anything is open to debate. Universities are highly decentralized organizations dedicated to the free pursuit of knowledge. Almost all their cherished conventions—tenure, peer review, academic freedom—are designed to safeguard against central control. Within the university gates, presidents must contend with faculty associations, student unions, and boards of governors; beyond the gates they are buffeted by the whims of city, provincial and federal governments.
But the challenges of academic administration are eternal, as are the fiats of governments. The bigger, institutional challenges facing Canada’s big five universities could perhaps be divided under two big topic headings.
First, they are hobbled by one-size-fits-all rules and mandates even as they have begun to try to compete, not against other Canadian universities, but against the best in the world.
Second, they have begun to realize that it matters little how well universities perform their role as incubators of new ideas if those ideas never take root in a broader, innovative society.
David Naylor, the deceptively soft-spoken medical researcher who has served as the University of Toronto’s president since 2005, has been a leading spokesman on both sets of issues. In a December 2006 speech to the Women’s Canadian Club of Toronto, he called for Canada to unabashedly seek to have some of the world’s greatest universities. And since they can’t all meet that goal, Naylor said our generic distribution of roles and resources has to end.
“We need a rationally differentiated system of universities and colleges,” he said, “one in which different institutions are valued for their different missions.” How so? “That could well mean that undergraduate enrolments at large research-intensive universities in Canada, and certainly in Ontario, are capped or even reduced. There tends to be a view that one baccalaureate is pretty much the same as others. I don’t believe that’s true or that it’s the best way forward. The experience of undergraduate education in a big research-intensive institution is different from a small undergraduate-oriented university. Why not reinforce and clarify that differentiation?”
This is heresy, of a genteel Canadian sort, because it suggests that the evolution of Canadian universities into different roles should be encouraged instead of reversed. It’s something we’ll explore with Naylor and his colleagues in next week’s magazine. But one has the distinct impression the G5 presidents know they won’t make many friends among their colleagues for such talk.
But if the big five presidents are preoccupied, on one hand, with the challenges that come with their unique role at the head of Canada’s research effort, they are also increasingly worried that the rest of Canada’s innovation system isn’t getting enough attention. Or to put it another way: coming up with new ideas is their business, and it will always be a challenge. But implementing new ideas is the private sector’s task—really, it’s a job for the whole of Canadian society—and we’re not doing well at it.
“A key reason” for Canada’s middle-of-the-pack spending on research and development, Naylor told the Economic Club of Canada in May, “is Canada’s disappointingly low level of spending in business R & D. In fact, R & D spending by Canadian businesses has been decreasing since 2002.”
And that trend is not about to turn around. “The majority of the private sector investment in R & D is actually done by a small handful of companies,” Naylor said. “In 2007 the top two private R & D investors spent more on R & D than the next eight investors combined. Those top two were Nortel and BCE.” Nortel, of course, is now being torn apart and sold piece by piece, and BCE has had its own distractions of late.
McGill’s Heather Munroe-Blum is a member of the new Science and Technology Innovation Council, or STIC, which the Conservatives created in 2007 to advise them on the global knowledge economy. The STIC’s first report in May suggested Canada does quite well against other big countries on university research, but that business innovation lags badly.
There’s an irony here, because to the limited extent that parliamentarians and news organizations spend any time at all discussing productivity and innovation, it’s usually to mull over arcane details of university research funding. But Munroe-Blum says that, to some extent, “the fact that we’ve spent a decade asking, ‘What’s wrong with university research?’ has become part of the problem”—because it distracts from broader questions about how new ideas are implemented in the economy.
But if the problem lies outside the university gates, it’s an open question what university presidents’ role should be in addressing it. The remarks of Canada’s big five presidents, when we publish them next week, will be likelier to spark a national conversation than to be its last word.
Next week, Part II of our Special Report: the presidents of five leading Canadian universities talk about reforming the system, Canada’s challenge, and what it will take for them to be the best in the world.
Living in the `real world’
Assistant Professor Of Labour Studies At Mcmaster University
July 23, 2009
Among all of the complaints about the CUPE locals currently on strike in Toronto, probably the most common is that the public sector workers are not living in the “real world.”
In particular, strikers have been assailed for the “delusional” expectations they have developed while cocooned in the public sector, safely away from the hard realities of the private sector.
Whatever your views on the strike, let there be no illusions that the public sector and the free market are such neatly separated worlds. To be sure, there are important differences as public sector jobs are funded through taxes, mostly less movable than private sector jobs and less vulnerable to economic slumps.
But as the current strike shows, public sector unions are far from immune to recessions. Indeed, the City of Toronto’s demands for concessions and the resulting turbulence are in keeping with a well-established pattern in bad times. The downturn in the early 1990s brought the Social Contract and Rae Days in Ontario, with all of the ensuing bitterness within the NDP.
During the slump in the early 1980s, the previously labour friendly Parti Québécois made major cutbacks despite serious union resistance, while the British Columbia government launched such a sweeping attack on public sector workers that the result was a general strike.
On the whole, public sector workers have been facing no shortage of hard reality in the form of cutbacks, wage freezes and attacks on job security for the better part of two decades. City of Toronto workers, for instance, had their wages frozen for much of the 1990s, and the average unionized city worker earns less than $40,000 annually.
The more basic issue is that the public and private sectors mix together far more than most commentators seem willing to admit. On the labour side, the major private sector unions such as the Canadian Auto Workers have moved decisively into the public sector. According to CAW economist Jim Stanford, the union now counts more than 30,000 public sector members, including workers in nursing homes, hospitals and air-traffic control.
Industrial unions have even penetrated the ivory tower, as the administrative staff at McMaster University, where I teach, is represented by the CAW, while the staff at the University of Toronto, where I did my studies, is represented by the United Steelworkers of America.
In the overall economy, much of the private sector is heavily dependent on the public. Governments and business leaders have been eager to deny this in the last few decades – and trying to shrink many areas of government activity, especially in providing social programs.
But the current economic crisis and the responses to it should leave little doubt that major parts of the free market cannot survive on their own – they require the help of the public sector.
Indeed, how can the public sector be denounced as not part of the real world when governments are bailing out central parts of the economy, or when the CAW had to bargain new collective agreements with the federal and provincial governments more than with the actual employers, General Motors and Chrysler?
Free market advocates may object that these bailouts were only needed for old and tired auto giants, chronically troubled airlines or reckless financial gamblers. But this analysis ignores the broader government stimulus packages that have been needed to rescue the economy.
More important, when you examine the industries that are supposed to be the future of our economy, it does not take long to find a massive role for government. The main sectors of the “knowledge economy,” such as high-tech or biotechnology, look to government for not only direct investments in research but also essential infrastructure and, above all, advanced education and training for their workforces.
Indeed, it is no accident that key centres of these industries tend to develop near leading universities. The high-tech boom around Waterloo, home to one of the best universities in computing sciences, is just one example. Another from the U.S. medical field is the “research triangle,” which takes its name from the area’s three universities – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State and Duke.
Taking the broader perspective, the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation, representing academics and high-tech heavyweights such as IBM, Intel, Google and Microsoft, put it succinctly in 2005: “Federal support of science and engineering research in universities and national laboratories has been key to America’s prosperity for more than half a century.”
When hard times hit, job losses mount and the media become obsessed with sick banks and other worker benefits, it is tempting to fall back on stereotypes about “pampered” public servants. And in the current climate, there is clearly a sizable contingent of the public who won’t be swayed from the position that daycare workers, public health nurses and garbage collectors should not expect decent wages or benefit perks. Moreover, free market purists will oppose any role for government, even if it means the financial system collapses, key industries disappear and a prolonged depression sets in.
But for those who truly want to deal with “hard reality,” it is time to accept that a self-sustaining free market is, to a very great extent, also a delusion.
Indeed, more and more of the economy is effectively in bargaining with government in one way or another – it’s just that some players, such as bankers, are proving able to get much better terms than others, such as unions.
David Goutor is the author of Guarding the Gates: The Canadian Labour Movement and Immigration, 1872-1934.
Tuition breaks for staff, families at local universities condemned
Luisa D’Amato, Record staff
WATERLOO — It’s time universities here stopped their practice of giving free or discounted tuition to employees and their families, say two local residents. “This doesn’t seem fair,” said Joyce Stankiewicz of New Hamburg. She has two grandchildren who work part-time and summer jobs to pay their university tuition. And she suspects their bills are higher because some other students, with parents who work on campus, are enrolled for free. She voiced her concerns to the office of John Milloy, Kitchener Centre MPP and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, but was told the ministry won’t interfere with decisions made on campus.
Both local universities recently said they are cutting their budgets to cope with a financial crunch. Stankiewicz, and her neighbour Gregg Murtagh, think the tuition perk for employees would be a natural place to look. Most universities in the country offer free or discounted tuition as a benefit for employees. At Wilfrid Laurier University, where tuition is free for employees and their dependents, that adds up to $4,965 a year for most undergraduate degrees, and up to $20,000 for the Master of Business Administration degree at the Waterloo campus. Last year, Laurier waived $653,000 in tuition fees, including 40 dependents of employees, plus more employees taking courses part-time, said Jim Butler, vice-president of finance for the university. Butler said the benefit is a perk, just like employees of auto companies getting a discount on a car. But in light of the university’s recent financial difficulties, this will come under scrutiny, he said. “We are looking at all our benefits and pensions,” he said. “Everything’s on the table.”
At University of Waterloo, employees and their dependents get 50 per cent of the tuition waived. There were 769 students last year who took advantage of this benefit, said university representative Martin van Nierop. Tuition at Waterloo ranges from $5,000 for a regular arts or science undergraduate degree to nearly $28,000 for a Master of Business Entrepreneurship and Technology degree. “An ‘education-related benefit’ is one we can grant as part of our core business, and it’s good employee relations,” said van Nierop. “It’s also something a university can offer its employees in a very competitive marketplace for staff and faculty.”
But New Hamburg resident Gregg Murtagh thinks that’s the wrong way to offer assistance to students.
Murtagh would like to see the benefit, which he calls “questionable,” eliminated. Instead, he thinks, it should be replaced by a fund – perhaps supported by the Ontario Lottery Corporation – that pays the tuition of every university and college student who maintains a B average. That’s what they do in states like Georgia, said Murtagh, who spent part of his career setting up colleges in Eastern Europe. Murtagh’s son recently graduated from university with a $20,000 debt. “We watch these kids coming out (after graduation) with a millstone around their necks,” he said. “It’s unacceptable in this day and age.”