Academic Mission, Transparency and Two Sets of Books

By Allan Manson

September 2, 2009

Recently, I have been trying to come to grips with the phrase “academic mission”. It is often used in discussion about the current financial situation at Queen’s. So I did some reading. I found a glossy Queen’s document entitled “Report on the Annual Budget 2008-09,” prepared by the Department of Financial Analysis and Budget, which contains a section called “Impact Budget Cuts on the Academic Mission”.

In that section I found no clear definition of “academic mission” but I did find this:

Queen’s must continue to identify and foster its strategic strengths, but at the same time neither the past nor the future academic prosperity of the institution can be imagined without high quality maintained and discernible across an appropriately broad range of disciplines. In other words, Queen’s continuing reputation as the quality leader in Canadian higher education will depend on the latter no less than the former……….[at p. 7-8]

Now, what does this mean? I have no idea, but I do know that someone was paid to write this gobbledygook and it was included in an expensive publication disseminated broadly across campus and elsewhere.

The same document provides (in “Table 2”) the probable source of the often quoted, but clearly unreliable, notion that salaries are 70% of the operating budget. It says that the university’s total expenditures in 2008-09 are $349,900,000, with an allocation for “compensation” (entirely undefined) of $249, 200,000.

This must be the source of the calculation that salaries make up roughly 70%. I call this “unreliable” because I also found another expensive glossy document entitled “Queen’s Annual Report 2008” prepared,
apparently, for the Board of Trustees. This document has a “Consolidated Statement of Operations” [at p. 55] which suggests that total university expenses in 2008 were $779, 261,000, with salaries and benefits listed as $417,913,000. This salary component includes clinicians’ salaries in the Faculty of Medicine (at $75,881,000) as well as administrative salaries, which are not more specifically broken down. And here the text indicates that total salaries and benefits, including those of clinicians and administrators, equal “56.7% of the University’s resources” [at p. 39], not 70%.

I don’t claim a comprehensive understanding of the financial data in these two documents but they do not jibe. Why do they look, to me, like the proverbial “two sets of books”? If this is transparency, why is it so
baffling to me? ? If you want to check this yourself, just go to http://www.queensu.ca/fins/info/financials.html.

Frankness is essential in any institutional environment that encompasses disparate interests. If I had a message for Principal Woolf it would be simply that frankness goes a long way.

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