The most recent Dalhousie University board of governors meeting took place on Feb. 15 via video call. During the meeting, board members discussed the budget advisory committee’s (BAC) draft budget for the upcoming year. This budget will be voted in on March 29.
The recent meeting addressed the reasons for what has recently become an annual increase in tuition. Each year since 2019, Dalhousie has increased tuition by three per cent – the maximum increase allowed by the province.
Better communication requested by DSU
Madeleine Stinson, president of the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU), submits a report to each board meeting. This meeting’s report focused on the DSU’s Reject the Fees campaign, as did last year’s, since the union’s requests were not met.
While Stinson still mentioned the request to freeze tuition, her focus this meeting was on communication from the board to students.
“What we want communicated is what a fee increase means, where student fees go, what an increase in student fees translates to,” Stinson said to the board. Stinson said if fee increases do lead to better services, better education and the future betterment of Dal, then Dalhousie should be broadcasting this clearly to students.
“Students want to determine whether something the board deems as necessary is actually necessary,” said Stinson of the fee increase.
In an interview with the Dalhousie Gazette, Stinson said, “The fact that no change has occurred on how the university communicates about fees is ridiculous.”
At the meeting, the budget advisory committee (BAC) presented a survey that showed on average, students rated their understanding of where fees go a 2.3/5.
The survey also showed that student priorities revolve around the improvement of online learning, mental health support, academic supports, study spaces and training and support for faculty. Furthermore, students noted that they want the BAC to take their financial needs into account.
Stinson said that some students are reluctant to fill out the BAC feedback form because every year they ask that tuition doesn’t increase, and every year it increases.
Once again, the discussed budget, which will be voted in on March 29, accounts for a three per cent raise in tuition and a $1473 fee increase for international students.
Dal explains tuition increase
After the BAC’s presentation, Glen Dexter, member of the finance, audit, investment and risk (FAIR) committee said, “I really don’t like that we ended up increasing the tuition but […] I fully support the budget and the process and where we got to.”
“I reluctantly got to the place where we had to increase tuition. I don’t like it, but I don’t see where to find it in the budget,” said Dexter.
Dexter and academic vice-president Frank Harvey both said the operating cost for Dalhousie increases at a faster rate than provincial support, which the university receives through things like the provincial operating grant. They say Dalhousie needs to increase tuition to meet these rising operating costs.
Harvey also said Dalhousie is relying more on tuition increases, part of the reason for this is that government funding does not increase at the same pace as enrolment.
According to Dexter, Dal is working to maintain good relations with the government and the university is getting all the funding it can. He said the province provides a larger percentage of it’s budget to post secondary institutions than other provinces.
“It’s pretty hard to go and jump on the politicians and say ‘you’re not doing what’s right,’ when they can point to other provinces like Ontario, maybe Alberta and say ‘well hey, we’re doing more than they are,’” said Dexter.
Dal was one of the reasons why the Nova Scotia government went over budget for university spending this year, but that money, as stated by both Robert Hanf, board chair, and the government’s 2021-2022 budget, went to upgrading the computer sciences facilities and gaining support for COVID-19 management.
Outside of tuition and provincial support, Dalhousie does have other avenues of income. Dal had a profitable year from endowment investments, generating $2.5 million committed to the next budget. However, the endowment is also a topic of issue, due to its investment in fossil fuel companies. For more on this, read the Gazette’s story about Divest Dal, which is also in this issue.
Dalhousie’s accessibility plan
Dalhousie’s accessibility plan is another item that was discussed in the meeting.
The university is making this plan in compliance with the Nova Scotia government’s goal for the province to be fully accessible by 2030. Michelle Mahoney, a member of several related committees, including the accessibility advisory committee, talked about her experience with inaccessibility at Dal, as well as the importance of making the university accessible.
“I look forward to a future where people like me won’t need to worry about barriers or need to advocate for what should be basic,” said Mahoney to the board.
Jasmine Walsh, who is co-chair of the accessibility committee with Quenta Adams, confirmed that Dalhousie is on track to meet the province’s deadline and present their accessibility plan in April 2022.
Walsh said, “we hear from folks like Michelle, who, 25 years ago, were at St. FX experiencing essentially the same things that they’re experiencing on Dalhousie campuses today.I It’s really time.”
There are currently about 70 recommendations in the plan, surrounding several aspects of the university’s infrastructure, communication practices and services for all members of the Dalhousie community. One of the recommendations is to add more gender-neutral and accessible washrooms, which students highlighted as a priority in a survey sent out by the committee in early spring of 2021.
Research grant for ocean carbon monitoring
Another item on the board’s agenda was an ocean carbon monitoring initiative presented by Anya Waite, a professor in the Dalhousie Department of Oceanography.
Waite is aiming to get a grant from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF).
The purpose of the project is to document ocean carbon levels, research that can be used to develop climate change mitigation strategies. During his address to the board, university president and vice-chancellor Deep Saini said, “If we end up getting a CFREF grant for this I think that would be a huge shot in the arm in our quest to position Dalhousie much more firmly into the broader climate change area, particularly in the mitigation of climate change.”
President’s address and changes in leadership
Saini also gave his usual president’s address. He gave thanks to Susan Robertson and Jasmine Walsh. Robertson is moving on to retirement and Walsh is going on to become chair on the Nova Scotia Labour Board.
Saini took time to recognize African Heritage Month and to thank the nursing students that assisted the Nova Scotian government during the healthcare staffing shortages in late January.
Lastly, he pointed out several changes that happened in the university’s leadership. The position of chief financial officer and assistant vice president of finance will be held by Dalhousie alumni Cheryl Earle (class of 1988) effective Feb 14. Balakrishnan Prithiviraj will become the official global relations assistant vice-president effective March 1. Finally, the new chief information officer, Jodi Couch started in January of this year.
Another change in leadership, Stinson will be leaving Dalhousie this spring. She has been advocating for students on the board for three years and has consistently voted for a tuition freeze while the non-student representatives on the board unanimously vote for increases.
“I encourage students to care about tuition and student government all year round not just every winter and spring. Everyone else out there: take an interest, hold the board accountable, fight for your interests, because they certainly aren’t,” she said in an interview.