Today at Senate, the sole purpose of the vice president finance, Duncan Watt, seemed to be justification of the university’s reserve funds, which constitute a very important matter. His assistant vice president, Tim Sullivan, did a boring but great job explaining changes in federal laws over the past quarter century that mandated accounting practices that make it so that audited financial statements seemingly do not correspond with the university’s operating report. This topic was first raised – and I assume was the motivation for today’s presentation – by Campus United, an umbrella group representing all of Carleton University’s unions, in their so-called “Red Black Report”. While I am not an accountant, Duncan Watt and Tim Sullivan have done a decent job of justifying the reserve funds to an amateur like me. Actually, in my eyes, if anything, the pension reserve funds should probably be larger because, if long-term bond rates keep slipping, then our pension obligations will continue to rise. And frankly, I want our pension fund to be fully funded in the event that the province does something silly, like eliminate one of the two universities in town because of perceived redundancy. I certainly do not want Carleton’s pension plan to be as underfunded as that of Nortel. Given all the deferred maintenance we have, I also think our capital reserve fund might be underfunded. Duncan Watt promised to give his and Tim’s slides today to all members of senate and to post these slides publicly on the VP-finance website.
As a throw-away side comment, Duncan Watt said that our Enrolment-Linked Budget Allocation (ELBA) scheme will continue, although he said that there are discussions about changing it slightly. While he did not say this, given sharply decreasing BA enrolments, I am not sure how ELBA can continue as it currently exists without a revolt by the deans of the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences (FASS) and the Faculty of Public Affairs (FPA). Given ELBA and decreasing enrolments in our BA programs, FASS and FPA will become severely underfunded in the near term, which seems shortsighted and unfair, despite Dean John Osborne’s kind words about ELBA almost five years ago (here). Oddly, the university president and provost seem unemotional about these financial cuts to FASS and FPA, despite both of them intellectually squarely fitting in with FASS. Maybe I am reading too much into what was not said, but discussion of ELBA or lack thereof seemed genuinely interesting.
Duncan Watt did, however, say that in the long-term Carleton was looking into slightly adjusting ELBA. But, when pressed by a faculty member for details about such slight adjustments to ELBA, Duncan Watt did nothing more than broach the current scenario at University of Toronto (UT). At UT, faculties get far larger allocations of money than at Carleton from their ELBA-like scheme, but each faculty also has much larger expenses, such as having to cover rent and cost of new hires. If Carleton were to move to a system like at UT, this would not be a small adjustment for us. Because of Duncan Watt’s contradictory answers about ELBA, Carleton University’s Senate and Board of Governors need to hear far more about exactly what Carleton is contemplating with ELBA, especially as the finance office tries to (quietly?) financially decimate our BA programs.
New buildings vs. deferred maintenance
The same faculty member that asked about so-called small adjustments to ELBA also asked the very insightful question that if Carleton has so much deferred maintenance, then why are we erecting new academic buildings and paying for those out of our own pockets (mortgages). I refer readers back to my 13 June 2014 Board of Governor’s blog posting for discussion by the University of Toronto economics professor David K. Foot’s in a University Affairs article dated 9 April 2014, in which Foot argued that it is absurd spending money on new buildings in lieu of deferred maintenance when enrolments are declining or expected to decline. Demographic predictions still show roughly an 8% decrease in our enrolments over the next several years. While Duncan Watt is usually fiscally very conservative, which isn’t a bad thing, in erecting a new health building with our own monies, he is taking a huge gamble with the university’s long-term finances. While our neuroscience program might be good, our health science program is still rather green and fairly weak. Given that Carleton’s upper administration has publicly stated that we will never recoup the $45 million cost of this new building via increased enrolments, this gamble looks somewhat reckless. I certainly hope that the rumours are false that this new $45 million building is a way for our outgoing vice president of research – who has recently been transferred from psychology to health – to feather their nest.
Other things from Duncan Watt
Duncan Watt mentioned three other things that were noteworthy. First, he stated that Carleton has raised the first $131 million in its current fund-raising campaign. I was surprised to hear this number in open session. Second, he said that current rumours are that the province will not construct three new undergraduate campuses in the greater Toronto area (GTA). Third, he said that the River Building is our first, and so far only, building with planned extravagances. He said that an equivalent utilitarian building would have cost $45 million, rather than the $55 million that the River Building ultimately cost. I do not know how Carleton’s upper administration balances such expenses for architectural flourishes and the like. But it seems a shame that we missed a great recruiting opportunity by not putting the campus tour office in the River Building. Maybe campus tours and recruiting could take over the space currently occupied by the Board of Governors, the Canada-India Centre, and Tim Horton’s, none of whom really need such fancy digs.
Buried under a fast-moving ton of paperwork for proposed new programs
The end of Senate was occupied by voting on several hundred pages of documents on new programs and program changes, which has become commonplace for Senate. Until the province dumped quality assurance on individual universities, Senate never received such voluminous filings. Michael MacNeil wisely asked if Senate could receive a table of content with such lengthy documents, which is a fantastic idea, especially since members of Senate invariably never see these documents with the required 10-day notice of motion. This time around, these attachments were 500 pages long, but Senate received them only 3 days before being asked to vote on them, which is unconscionable. Unfortunately the answer from the clerk was that Senate will only see a table of contents if the relevant committees provide them, especially the Senate Academic Program Committee (SAPC) and the Senate Committee on Curriculum Admission and Study Policy (SCCASP), which seem to be pawns of Peter Ricketts and Don Russell. Until this process improves, Senate will seem like nothing more than a rubber-stamping machine. My advise to members of Senate is that if there is no table of contents and if we do not have at least ten days to review a motion, then we vote “no” on such motions, tabling these matters until Senate is fully informed in a timely fashion.
I asked one question about the proposed new Bachelor of Information Technology in Information Research Management Program. This program will compel students to bounce between Carleton and Algonquin College over the course of each week. Given Carleton’s (green-washed?) emphasis on sustainability and that these two campuses are 10 km apart, I asked whether Carleton had conducted an environmental impact statement over the forced commuting of students. The provost gave a monosyllabic answer, “no”. Such brevity is also unconscionable, especially for someone so prone to needlessly lengthy soliloquys. At least the university president realized his insult and was decent enough to do a quick song-and-dance to try to placate me.
Also buried in the nascent 500 pages of unexplained documents, were proposed new graduate programs in ethics. I have no problem with the proposed new PhD program in ethics. However, the two new master’s diplomas in ethics are course-work only. We keep piling on so many new course-work only graduate programs that we look like a community college. If we want to be a research-intensive university, we should start acting like one. But this trend of course-work only master’s programs has continued through three deans of graduate studies – John Shepherd, Wally Clement, and Matthias Neufang – which is telling.
Carleton is on unceded Algonquin territory
Finally, I want to refer back to an intentional omission at the start of the Senate meeting. There is still no verbal recognition at open sessions of Senate that Carleton is on unceded Algonquin territory. There is a watermark at the top of the open session agenda stating that Carleton is on Algonquin territory, but written communication is not the same as oral recognition. This is embarrassing and indicates our lack of commitment to or even recognition of our Indigenous neighbours.