In Focus News

Task force finds millions

The newest task force committee has been meeting twice a week to discuss possible solutions for the school’s shortfall. In these discussions, the Board of Governors’ treasurer Katrina Beach and bursar Jim Fitzpatrick have found there’s an extra $2.2 million in the investment account.

When it comes to finding solutions for the university’s financial crisis, everything is – once again – on the table.
The newest task force committee has been meeting twice a week to discuss possible solutions for the school’s shortfall. In these discussions, the Board of Governors’ treasurer Katrina Beach and bursar Jim Fitzpatrick have found there’s an extra $2.2 million in the investment account.

(Photo: Duckie Monster via Flickr Creative Commons)

The task force has come up with possible uses for this money, which are meant to focus on renewable and sustainable fixes. These include using it for faculty renewal, programme restructuring, administrative restructuring, student services, urgent maintenance that had been deferred, as well as reducing the university’s debt or replenishing cash balances.
Although these unexpected funds have relieved some of the immediate pressure on the task force, it is still focusing on the financial future of the university.
“The financial problems are structural,” said Kim Kierans, vice-president and task force chair. “If we don’t somehow get things together, we’re not going to be sustainable.”
The task force committee has a deadline of Feb. 3 to submit an interim report to the Board. The report will primarily focus on short-term solutions for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
“We’re asking for data,” said Kierans. “We need to have informed, evidence-based decisions. It just can’t be gut decisions.”
The university increased its draw on the endowment from 4.5 per cent to five per cent to allow for the creation of the new task force, and it will maintain that increase in the short term.
Among the short-term solutions, the task force committee will look at different budget cut scenarios submitted by the various academic and administrative departments. These scenarios will involve budget cuts of five, 10, or 20 per cent.
Tuition and student fees will also be a part of the task force’s discussions. Kierans said a three per cent increase in tuition is likely to happen for the next year. King’s fees often mimic Dalhousie fees, so an increase may also depend on what Dal decides to do.
Michaela Sam, the KSU president and a student representative on the task force, said she’s concerned about maintaining the accessibility of education.
“Obviously, not only does it harm the accessibility of the college and our ability to attend King’s… but it also hurts enrolment numbers, and that’s not good for the school’s bottom line,” she said.
The university has already been responding to the trend of falling enrollment in a variety of ways, particularly focusing on potential student engagement.
In 2014, faculty members promoted King’s at over 60 public and private schools across Canada, giving lectures on topics such as Hegel, opera, journalistic storytelling and media law. This year’s current FYP students received finger puppets of Plato, Hemmingway or Tesla, depending on their course of study.
Although there have been conversations about restructuring academic programs, changes are unlikely to happen soon.
“Our priority in those conversations is maintaining the programs that we already have,” said Sam. “Ensuring that… our operating budget is going to support what is core to King’s, which is our teaching and our learning and our libraries and things like that.”
However, even those core aspects of King’s will be scrutinized. According to the an update emailed to the UKC community mailing list, the task force is looking at the possibility of implementing total or partial salary freezes.
The update offered the projected savings of two different scenarios for a salary freeze. The first includes Carnegie professors – faculty employed by King’s to teach at Dalhousie – as well as unionized teaching and senior fellows. It gives options for excluding employees from the salary freeze if they earn less than $60,000, $50,000, or $40,000. With these four variations, the update said the salary freeze could save between $300,000 and $360,000.
The second scenario excludes Carnegie professors and unionized teaching fellows, and has the same qualifications for excluding employees making less than $60,000, $50,000, or $40,000. This scenario could save between $250,000 and $300,000
Both scenarios also have an option that only freezes the income maintenance charge, which allows salary increases to accommodate the increase in the cost of living. The savings here are about $200,000 less than other options, however, it doesn’t freeze the career development increment, which allows for increases in pay based on performance.
A salary freeze isn’t the only option the committee is looking at in regards to the faculty. There was also the possibility that retiring Carnegie professors might not be replaced, or that current King’s faculty could replace those professors.
Sabbaticals next year could be deferred, or not funded by the university.
The eventual retirement of faculty and staff might also provide savings, and buyouts could be offered to ease the process. Kierans stressed that this is only an idea, however, and it would be entirely optional.
Kierans also mentioned  some Dalhousie employees are working half-time for half-pay. Faculty at Dal can take half-time appointments to ease themselves into retirement. King’s could follow suit.
Kierans said the possible impacts of all these ideas on academic programs and teaching would have to be considered first. Sam agreed.
“It’s difficult to say what will definitely happen, because there are so many different constituencies in the room,” said Sam. “We all have different ideas about what King’s needs to prosper.
“What I can say is that we are working very hard to protect those in precarious work situations at King’s.”
Another avenue the new task force is looking at comes from King’s non-academic revenue. Conference services are now offered at King’s in the summer, providing spaces for different events. Kierans said this service has the potential to produce $100,000 in revenue next year.
Although a merger with Dalhousie could still be discussed at a later stage, Sam said the idea is not featured in the task force’s immediate discussions.
After submitting the interim report on Feb. 1, the task force will start working on long-term solutions. They will expand their focus to include where King’s fits in compared with other universities in Nova Scotia, as well as its relationship to government funding.
“I love King’s, and I will fight for King’s as long as I possibly can, and I think that it does have a future,” said Kierans. “We just have to figure out a way together.”
The Long Term Financial Strategy Taskforce Report, released in Oct. 2014, was the work of a committee put together to begin to solve the university’s financial crisis.
Faculty created their own working group to look at solutions to the financial crisis.
Both the faculty report and the KSU fact sheet, which was given to students to outline the task force report, indicated a need for a more accountable committee that would take all members of the university community into equal account.
On Nov. 17, the Board of Governors decided to create a more representative committee to look at long and short-term solutions.
The new task force has thirteen members: Michaela Sam and Emily Rendell-Watson as student representatives; Stephen Kimber, Gordon McOuat, Neil Robertson and Shirley Tillotson as faculty representatives; Kelly Porter and Jennifer Barnhill as staff representatives; the chair of the Board’s task force committee and King’s alumnus, Tom Eisenhauer; Board member and alumnus Colin MacLean; president George Cooper; Board chair Dale Godsoe; and Kim Kierans as the task force’s chair.

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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