Op-Eds Opinions

An opinion on money

In an issue of the journal Canadian Literature published in the spring of this year, Laura Moss (UBC) asks this important question: “What if, instead of thinking of the humanities as in a state of crisis as we so often do, we think of the humanities as an ecosystem that is failing to thrive?”
When we compare University of King’s College 2014-2015 budget to the university’s 2014-2015 enrolment numbers, one thing is clear: if King’s continues to depend on enrolment to drive 90% of budgeted revenue, the institution cannot thrive. Student fees should never constitute core operational funding. In order to achieve financial sustainability, King’s will need to seek adequate public support.
In fact, the whole community should be a part of the search for sustainable solutions—not simply a board and administration that decide the direction of the university in closed meetings. If King’s is to become a truly sustainable institution, its administrators and board members will need to champion transparency. Students, faculty, and staff should all be given the opportunity to bear witness to the full decision-making process around both institutional investments and operational budgeting.
For now, while the students’ union fights for more education funding from government, King’s continues to rely on raising fees. This year, the administration is celebrating a donation for merit-based entrance scholarships that does little to help low-income and otherwise marginalized students who wish to attend the university. Indeed, while King’s has used donations to bolster scholarship funds, need-based bursaries will be reduced by $12,000 in the coming year, while student fees continue to rise. The university’s fundraising strategies continue to prioritize donations from the most affluent Nova Scotians, perpetuating the notion that university education should only be provided to the wealthy, by the wealthy.
So how can King’s operate without taking advantage of those who are least able to provide the school with real financial stability? What would set the university on the path toward sustainable budgeting?
To answer these questions, it helps to think about what can make King’s environmentally sustainable.
Over the past year, four fossil fuel divestment campaigns have sprung up in Halifax (Divest Dal, Divest SMU, Divest King’s, and a municipal divestment campaign aimed at the HRM City Council). These campaigns are calling on public intuitions to live up to their mission statements and to serve the public good by refusing to invest in destructive industries. Advocates of divestment argue that it makes no sense to be using funds kept in trust for the future in ways that jeopardize the future of the student body—and of the earth.
Although divestment campaigns target university endowments rather than operating budgets, and although divestment may not necessarily catalyze dramatic revenue increases for universities, some of the principles of these campaigns can carry over to the way we think about operational funding.
Students who care about sustainability pay close attention to their composting choices, their energy bills, and their food purchases, but tuition is by far the largest line item in the average student budget. It makes perfect sense that students are asking questions about the financial ethics and sustainability priorities of the institutions that are dealing with financial difficulty by placing still greater burdens on their poorest members. The King’s community is a living thing that needs quality nourishment from a variety of sources; it cannot survive on the returns from contaminated investments, nor can it survive on student fees alone.
In the end, King’s—like other ecosystems—will need to demonstrate both diversity and integrity in order to avoid collapse.

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

Leave a Reply