“I think what a lot of universities have been doing is kind of year-to-year figuring out a fix, and that’s been smart… but you can only do that for so long. And at some point you have to say, ‘Look, maybe we need to look seriously at some of the ways in which we do things,’” she said.
Stretching the budget
The school is facing some major expenses. They had to come up to fire code this summer. The Wardroom canteen and the Pit are being renovated. The President’s Lodge is uninhabitable, with a 1920s-era electrical system, a gutter problem that need the woodwork ripped out down to the stone, and a drainage problem. The unofficial estimate is around half a million dollars, Leavitt said.
Because she can’t live in the lodge, the school had to rent an apartment at Bishop’s Landing on the Halifax Waterfront, her first apartment since she was 19. Her son lives in residence at King’s, and takes the Foundation Year Programme.
In addition, King’s will have to pay her salary itself. Historically, a King’s president sits as the chair of the Carnegie Trust, the board that funds King’s professors to teach at Dalhousie. The relationship dates back to 1923, when King’s College burned in Windsor, Nova Scotia, and the Carnegie Foundation helped fund its move to Halifax.
The position usually comes with a salary credit of around $100,000, paid by the foundation.
Leavitt won’t be taking this position—she says she never considered it, or teaching at Dalhousie at all.
“I don’t know if it was ever discussed. It wouldn’t have been an appropriate position for me,” she said. “Given my background and qualifications, and also my interests, it’s far more appropriate for me to be a professor at King’s of humanities.”
Her interests lie closer to interdisciplinary programs such as King’s FYP.
“I have a certain approach to ancient philosophy. That’s what King’s offers. Dal doesn’t,” she said.
While Leavitt hasn’t taught in seven years, she plans to start again next year, at King’s. To get her philosophy fix until then, and meet to first-years, she plans to attend FYP general tutorials.
But her priority is the money problem. The former Vancouver Island University administrator has some ideas.
“King’s offers fabulous programs, right? We all know that. The wonderful thing about King’s is we don’t need to change what it’s doing in that sense. It’s doing great stuff.”
One option is re-branding.
Dr. Daniel Brandes has submitted a proposal to the board for the long-discussed School of Integrated Humanities. Administration for the Contemporary Studies Programme, Early Modern Studies and History of Science would be combined for easier curriculum collaboration, while maintaining distinctiveness.
There are also plans for another master’s degree brewing in the School of Journalism—this time, in Creative Non-Fiction.
Next year, school contributions will jump to 30 per cent of payroll from the current 22 per cent in order to maintain future levels of its defined benefit pension.
“I’m not sure that that’s something the university wants to do,” said Leavitt.
The school’s endowment dropped in the recession and didn’t rebound, she says, leaving the school with little money to spare.
“Our costs are going up, and government grants and tuition are not keeping the same pace.”
The board is considering “seven or eight” options, and Leavitt has suggested creating a “sustainability committee” to work on fixing the financial situation.
“What I’ll be asking the board to do is to take on a more robust direction in conversation with faculty, students and others, a more robust direction, or financial planning, of the institution,” she says.
She laughs, surprised by the business-talk.
“I didn’t think we’d be having a conversation about finances,” she says with a loud voice and a big smile. “It’s not the most exciting thing to be doing, although it’s essential.”
Another priority is the first collective agreement with the new King’s College Teachers Association, made up of teaching fellows such as FYP tutors. It’s the first teachers’ union on King’s soil, so Leavitt has built the first negotiating committee at King’s from scratch, a standard institution at other schools.
“As somebody who’s been a dean at a place that had three unions, I was sort of pretty intimately connected with how that stuff works,” she said. She also sat on the school’s labour negotiating team.
Leavitt has had lunch with Matt Furlong, who sits on the executive, and emailed Cory Stockwell, the union president, to bat around ideas, although both she and Stockwell are excluded from any bargaining meetings.
The union members are also interested in pensions.
In 2009, the teaching fellows had their pension plan changed without discussion. It went from a defined benefit plan, which promises a set monthly income, to defined contribution, which invests the money in the market.
These employees, all of them FYP tutors, are on one-year contracts that are renewable for up to three years. Tutors hired before 2009 could contribute to a pension immediately, but those hired after 2009 can’t until their third year on the job.
Last spring, former King’s President Dr. William Barker told The Watch the defined contribution pensions are considered more “portable” than the defined benefit, and so worked better with the tutors’ contracts. All permanent professors are still on the defined benefit plan.
Working with the KSU
But the first bargaining of the year she hadn’t anticipated. The boycott of Sodexo food services ended with the agreement to form a Food Advisory Committee, and the King’s Student Union to take over the Wardroom canteen after presenting a business plan.
“My hope will be that they would have researched this a little bit and would not be proposing to do something they’re simply incapable of doing,” Leavitt said, noting the Wardroom canteen does not have a kitchen.
There is no licensed kitchen on campus that can legally prepare food other than the Sodexo kitchen.
One King’s society using an uncertified kitchen to do catering has been shut down after a recent anonymous complaint to the Food Safety Section of Nova Scotia’s Agriculture Department.
Leavitt didn’t know that KAFCA catered until the health inspector visited, at which point she emailed KAFCA to tell them to stop.
“I would also appreciate it if you would remove from your Facebook page and your blog all reference to KAFCA’s unauthorized activities at King’s …As the activities in question cannot happen at King’s, your materials should not lead people to think that the University has authorized them,” the Sept. 14 email reads.
Her interactions with the KSU thus far have been positive, she said, and she has visited the Link for informal chats multiple times. KSU president Gabe Hoogers said she has been very receptive to the union’s interests during the boycott negociations.
“It seems to me that, of any place in Canada, it ought to be fairly easy to have an open and consistent relationship with students here, because it’s not very big …My sense is that I have a pretty open door policy. If people need me, they should feel free to call on me, and feel free to call me, and as issues come up, we’ll figure out how to deal with them.”