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Board shuts out KSU

The King’s President and Board of Governors are leaving the students out of the financial planning of the college, said the King’s Student Union.

The King’s President and Board of Governors are leaving the students out of the financial planning of the college, said the King’s Student Union.
Last November, in response to the financial difficulties facing the university, the Board of Governors announced that it was striking a Financial Sustainability Committee to explore these challenges and look into possible solutions.
In the Nov. 22 release, the Board announced that this committee’s purpose is “informing itself and the King’s community about the challenges facing us, consulting broadly with the community as to how such challenges should be met, and bringing recommendations to the Board that will enable it to determine a sustainable financial plan to support the University overall.” The nine-member committee was created in order to look at possible solutions to the college’s financial crisis and will disband once its task is done. Chaired by King’s President Anne Leavitt, it is composed of representatives from the King’s community and the Board of Governors.
But while the committee does include one student, this student (former KSU president Kiki Wood), like all members of this committee, was not elected to the position. KSU President Gabe Hoogers said the lack of elected student body from the governance of the school is a problem.
“It was a shock to me to find that we were excluded,” said Hoogers. He is concerned that this creates a dangerous precedent for the university to “undermine the structure of the KSU” by taking away its power to select who will represent the interests of students.
“The KSU is the only legitimate body that can represent student interests,” said Union Board of Governors Representative Dan Brown.
The KSU’s representatives challenged the committee’s member list at the meetings of the Board of Governors and Board of Governors’ Executive. The Board of Governors Executive is a smaller group that meets more frequently than the full Board of Governors. The union’s challenges led to extensive debates, but were eventually voted down.
“We lost the vote, but we won support in those debates,” said Brown.
Leavitt rejects the notion that students should have an elected representative sit on this committee: “If you’re elected, you are answerable to that group of people,” she said. Because this is a committee to advise the board, “the members of this committee must be answerable to the Board and to no one else.” For this reason, no elected representative from the faculty, staff, alumni or students was included.
The purpose of the committee is to present recommendations to the Board, not to make decisions itself, said Leavitt. If the Board was to act on any of them, it would be subject to the same voting process as any other proposal. As KSU representatives already sit on the Board and consult with the Board’s other financial committees, Leavitt argues that an elected student representative is unnecessary.
Leavitt did note that the KSU does have elected representation on the financial committee. However, less than 24 hours after Leavitt spoke to The Watch, Hoogers was surprised to hear that the KSU would also no longer have a representative on the Budget Advisory Committee, a committee that advises the president directly to help her prepare the annual budget.
In a meeting with the Board of Governor’s Executive on Jan. 19, Hoogers said he was informed that the President had “decided to choose people with more technical ability and the moral authority to handle the budget making process.” Leavitt explained to The Watch that she chose people “who understand the budget and have an intimate understanding of the actual budgets of the institution.”
“We’re not going to have a lot of time to explain things to people who may not be familiar with budgets,” Leavitt said.
While the financial sustainability committee gives recommendations to the board on long-term matters, the Budget Advisory Committee assists the president in her preparation of the annual budget, which she then presents to the board. “There’s no requirement for the president to consult with anyone,” said Leavitt.
Leavitt said there is some confusion as to the place of the Budget Advisory Committee. Its composition, up until its recent reconstitution without faculty or student representatives, was only in place for the past three years.
Leavitt said the KSU has a mistaken “sense of entitlement” in this matter: “They think this is a governance body on which they have a hereditary role … from history or from a policy, when really we’re talking about a very recent phenomena. This is not a continuation of what was there before; it’s really more of a budget working group.”
Leavitt originally wanted to strike the committee altogether, but was persuaded by the Board of Governors Executive to reconstitute it. “Students sit on the Board. Changes are made to the budget there,” said Leavitt. “There are many committees that lots of people don’t sit on.”
Hoogers’s main concern is that, although the KSU does have a role in the final decision through votes at the meetings of the Board of Governors, “this isn’t where the content of the issues is decided.”
Responding to these concerns, Leavitt said she’d be happy to meet with Union representatives to discuss budget recommendations, though she said she already knows what the Union recommends. “Their positions on these things are not unknown. If there’s one thing they’re good at, it’s making their position clear,” Leavitt said. “I’m not in the dark about what the KSU wants to see on the budget.”
The larger problem for the Union, related to their exclusion from the financial sustainability committee and the Budget Advisory Committee, is the focus of the administration on providing short-term solutions to long-term problems.
King’s financial trouble is no secret. According to a website circulated in a release from Nov. 22, “Total bank indebtedness is expected to grow to $5M by the end of 2012.” The reasons listed for these financial problems on the website range from tuition caps to above-average salaries to King’s aging infrastructure to a decrease in the provincial government’s annual grant to the school and more. In addition, the Dexter government recently announced that, for the second straight year, it would be reducing its annual operating grant to Nova Scotia’s universities, this time by 3.1 per cent for 2012-2013 (4 per cent for 2011-2012). A Jan. 5 release from the Council of Nova Scotia University Presidents estimates that this will amount to approximately “$33 million in an overall funding reduction” to universities in Nova Scotia. This means that the funding King’s will receive from the provincial government will be reduced by roughly $223,000, according to Leavitt.
Omri Haiven, KSU External VP, and Financial VP Nick Gall were invited to give a presentation to the Financial Sustainability Committee earlier in January. “We were really disappointed by the response,” said Haiven. “We were told that since our proposals wouldn’t be felt in the short term, they wouldn’t be followed.”
Leavitt said that three to five years is as long-term as any university can reasonably plan and that if the university wants to be around for the long term, it needs to take care of these short-term issues immediately. “The cuts are being imposed on us, on our operating grant by the provincial government,” she said. “King’s, whether it likes it or not, needs to formulate a response. It can’t run out of money”.
All parties agree that changes are inevitable, but Hoogers is disappointed with the lack of creativity in the process. Hoogers would like to see the university’s financial governance follow a “long-term, consensus based” approach to tackle these issues instead of excluding the parties that would be most affected by cuts.
At this point, Leavitt said, the Financial Sustainability Committeee is only at an “information collection phase,” and “they will be assigning members to meet with various groups” of students, faculty, staff and alumni at a later date. Hoogers and the KSU hope they will be more included.
“I would hope they’d invite us to work with them,” said Hoogers. “King’s is built on various interests coming together. The way to move forward should be through an inclusive committee structure that ensures that consensus will be reached.”

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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