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King’s deconstructs its budget deficit

Faculty concerned by financial strategy report

 

••• photo supplied
••• photo supplied

 

The University of King’s College’s financial troubles have become well known in the last month. It’s not just been a few years of trouble, but part of a long-term problem King’s is grappling with.

A task force was assembled to tackle the issue of how to balance King’s budget. The Long-Term Financial Strategy Task Force Report was released Oct. 9. The report details the need to increase enrolment, lower the costs of operations, get renewed government funding, find new sources of income, and look at the Dalhousie Agreement.

However, these are just recommendations that came out of the report. The Board of Governors haven’t endorsed or implemented any options yet.

One of the biggest issues identified in the report was enrolment. King’s had expected 1,195 new students for this year, but at the moment there are only 1,090 registered. It’s an 8.8 per cent drop. Between 2011 and 2014, the provincial government cut their support by to King’s by 10 per cent. There were also unforeseen problems that King’s had to be pay out-of-pocket, like flood damage.

All Nova Scotian universities are dealing with a similar set of problems: a shrinking pool of high school students to recruit, the province’s sad economic state, and a cap on how much universities can increase tuition.

The reputation of the Arts Faculty has also taken a beating in recent years, making students unwilling to commit to arts degrees.

Under the expenses of King’s, the salary and benefits of academic and administrative staff combined make up 51 per cent of costs.

As well, the increase in salaries went up faster that the revenue climbed, but this is not unique to King’s. The report recommends a temporary voluntary salary freeze to academic and administrative staff.

Stephen Kimber has taught at the King’s School of Journalism since 1983. He says the report was too focused on a voluntary salary freeze as an option.

Kimber says the report doesn’t clarify exactly what a “voluntary” freeze would mean. Additionally, staff are paid on a scale. A professor who is near the top will be fine with a freeze for one year, but those who have less seniority and are paid less will be the ones who suffer.

The report also suggests a “Faculty Renewal” where professors over the age of 65 would be eased out and replaced with cheaper positions. While it would cost the university to get these people to retire, in the long run they estimate they would save money. This is a trend that many universities have employed. It typically means replacing aging faculty by hiring part-time professors who are paid little and have no job security.

Dr. Wayne Hankey is chair of Dalhousie’s Classics department and has been a professor for over forty years. Hankey, who is credited with establishing King’s Foundation Year Programme, says the report lost sight of the purpose of a university. “We no longer have universities that service education, certainly not a university that serves students,” says Hankey. “We have self-protecting corporations who are squeezing money out of everyone for the sake of their self-reservation.”

When considering the problems King’s is facing, its relationship with Dal has to been examined. The history and future of King’s is entwined with its larger neighbour, dating back to 1922.

Due to the Dalhousie Agreement, King’s needs Dal’s permission to create new programs. The Task Force says King’s may see reluctance on Dal’s part to allow this growth because it could bring King’s into competition with them.

The report also proposes that King’s shift administrative duties to Dalhousie in order to save money and staff ’s time for other responsibilities.

The executive summary states the objective is to keep King’s an independent institution, but in the future it may not resemble the King’s people know. It may come to be called independent only in name.

The report emphasizes the importance of recruitment.

The report states “Every faculty member, student and staff member at King’s must see themselves as responsible for recruitment and retention of students. Everyone must also see themselves as responsible for revenue generation.”

Kimber says there are other possibilities he doesn’t think the university has considered seriously.

“By focusing on the salary freeze to the exclusion of other possibilities, it’s creating a more serious problem in the long run,” says Kimber.

King’s has already cut two tutor positions from its Foundation Year Programme, as well as a residence don position.

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