In the Fall of 2019, Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) held a series of budget consultations sessions across its campuses led by then-Provost Noreen Golfman. Much of the discussions at that time are still relevant today.
Participants were presented with a list of 10 priorities: Academic experience (student support, wellness, advising), Advocacy, Faculty and staff wellness and renewal, Graduate fellowships, Increased efficiency (reduce duplication, align processes, outsourcing), Increased revenue, Indigenization, Infrastructure and technology renewal, The library collection, and Research.
They were asked three questions: to what extent do the following priorities remain, are there new or emerging priorities, and what else should the university be doing in response to the fiscal challenges.
On November 18th, 2019, there was a consultation held on the Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook.
A person stated that research was added as it was not explicit enough in the list. They then stated that teaching is also not explicit enough, particularly for Grenfell, and that they do not have support for teaching excellence.
There was then a point made about communicating the story of Memorial to the public and that the senior leadership needs to keep the university’s importance and relevance at the forefront of the community. Provost Noreen Golfman responded by asking what that advocacy should look like.
Next, there was a question regarding increased revenue and what that means. Does it mean student fees and tuition? The response was yes, and there was agreement on differential professional tuition. However, there was a point made regarding still maintaining the progressive fee.
There was then a question regarding why a budget cut is so much greater for MUN. It was stated that between 82 percent to 88 percent of the university’s budget is from government funding. It was said that there needs to be a common front among folks who are a part of the university community. A point was raised about balancing the special obligation to the people of the province to be educated and aspirational. Between 14 to 15 percent of the university’s budget comes from tuition. At other universities, it is between 30 to 60 percent.
A question was asked regarding what the university is doing to advance the province and what else the university should be doing.
It was brought up that TransformUS – USASK – asked units to sit down and examine every aspect of administration and academic programs (curriculum). It was stated that there were some positive aspects, including a critical review of every academic program. However, it was stated that it was hard, and it blew up in their face – a nasty experience. Another person had a different perspective and pointed out that the senior leadership took hard hits but that the value to the university community overall was beneficial in the end.
Transform included a lot of public campaigning by faculty members. Tenured faculty members were on the radio, and members of the university wrote op-eds to keep the message current in the minds of the community. They went from a deficit of $45 million to a deficit of $5 million.
A point was brought up about the importance of different people writing op-eds and not just administrators. It was then stated that TransformUS by the University of Saskatchewan was problematic but that the activity of each unit focusing on its activities did yield some positive initiatives.
It was brought up that there were students concerned about WIFI access and that the system was overloaded. It was said that WIFI access points at some areas of the university are inadequate. Then it was asked how the university is to determine how the IT infrastructure is kept up for both student access and teaching access. A point was made that the microwave ovens interfere with the WIFI in residences. It was also asked if there is a platform for students to lobby the government. Provost Golfman responded that the students’ platform is the university platform and that we are all in it together.
It was asked why the university is investing in the Core Science Building when the current buildings are falling down. The cost for this new building is $325 million. It was stated that the university needs to revitalize the things they have as well as invest in new.
It was then asked if the university had plans for a capital campaign and why fundraising had not been an initiative. This was followed by a statement that the conversation needs to be changed from budgets to teaching and how the cuts affect teaching because it’s supposed to be about learning and the students. It was asked if the university could go to the government for funding for a capital project. Provost Golfman responded that those monies are done. She stated that the 2004 whitepaper money helped and that they hope to have more whitepaper money. Golfman then asked the participants what the campus should be pitching to the province for its specialties.
A person asked if a new president coming is a good thing and that it will be tough for them. However, they stated that it could be a chance to build a good relationship with the government.
At the November 19th, 2019, 3 PM session on the St. John’s Campus, around 25 people were in attendance.
Director of Student Life, Jennifer Browne, stated that under the priority of academic experience that experience is not just through the journey in the classroom but also many of the experiences students have outside of the classroom. She stated that the operating budget is $7,000 to operate after salaries are paid and that they would not be able to do anything with the new student services fee. She also said that the Student Development fee funds a lot of great initiatives. She said they are improving student success by enhancing the first-year experience and infusing career into first-year counselling. She stated that they are doing these things because they want the student experience to remain. She then brought up a point about recruitment and retention and the engagement of students, and getting them to enjoy the experience.
A person said that picking priorities is a mugs game and that all these things need to happen and that the gap is increasing in terms of the known and anticipated costs and budget allocation. They asked how the university could continue to do this.
A staff member stated that technology should remain a priority and that few things happen on campus that does not involve technology. They said that technology renewal needs to be on the list of priorities. The staff member then brought up wireless internet as an example and stated that students used to take 1.1 devices but now 3.1 devices per day. It was stated that there are a large number of data centres on campus and that there is a lot of pressure from ageing infrastructure and evolving competency requirements. The staff member stated that 28 years ago, it would have been possible to be a generalist, but that is no longer possible. The staff member stated that there needs to be better sharing of technology and better refresh of technology. It was stated that duplication in technological needs to be looked at and that it is not just about new technology but to foster relationships across campus and partnerships.
A staff member stated that in order to thrive that there need to be support groups for research and academic programs. They said that the university needs to renew instructional technology, tech services, and general infrastructure and that this is difficult to do with the budgeting challenge. They said that there is a $4.5 million budget with $5.2 million in salary expenses and that it will not be possible to survive without charging for services. He said that it is crucial to be highly engaged in the academic and research community.
Another person brought up the importance of maintaining the academic core mission of the university and maintaining faculty and staff positions within academic units. It was stated that maintaining the faculty complement is critical to all the university’s prioritized because as complement goes down, it affects departments’ ability to offer programs. There are fewer courses and electives as a result, along with program closes. This all negatively impacts the quality of the student experience. It was stated that it also affects the university’s reputation if there are not enough faculty to conduct research, disseminate new knowledge, and develop new programs. It was also pointed out that reduction in complement affects the university to support the provincial strategy to close the skills program. It was stated that many students value the program experience providing an opportunity to study and work in the province. The academic experience is important, but many students value the program experience more like students in B. Comm Coop.
A point was then made about cyber threats and defending personal data and intellectual property. It was said that they had seen an alarming increase in these threats and are shifting some of their priorities to address them.
It was then brought up that a lot hinges on the infrastructure piece and that a lot of things cannot happen without investment in infrastructure. The roof on the Math and Stats building was rated as the worst infrastructure of any math department in Canada in a recent AUP review. It was pointed out that graduate students require more resources and that the university will not see continued growth in graduate studies without investment in infrastructure. It was recommended that perhaps an asterisk should be placed next to infrastructure.
It was then noted that complement, student success, and infrastructure were common concerns. A point was then made about addressing the climate crisis whenever the university looks at new initiatives and that it would help in student recruitment if it was seen as a priority.
Another person said that infrastructure does a lot for morale and that they have effects beyond just fixing the roof. An emphasis was placed on how we can forget that morale can also suffer.
A point was raised about priorities within priorities. It was asked how the university is to balance new and emerging opportunities and existing challenges like acquiring the battery and purchasing the GEO Centre.
A person then brought up a point regarding the Blundon Centre. It was asked how the university is to ensure that they are providing all students with an equally rewarding experience. It was stated that MUN is more accessible but that there are more demands on resources.
The presentation of the university to the wider community was then brought up. A person stated that it is essential that the university changes the way in which it presents itself to the province as the province is not aware of many of the challenges that the university is facing, like the reduction in history courses. It was stated that much is spun by the media and that the narrative in the public needs to change and that there is a need to create political will.
It was then suggested to continue the investigation in reduction of duplication. The university needs ten different systems to manage multiple projects when 80% of the capabilities are shared among all systems.
A person then said that in addition to technology, the university must get smarter in procurement and buy in bulk. The university has a new strategic procurement division that will reduce costs in price management.
A question was then asked about Brightspace. A person said that it was crappy and asked why the university spent more money on Brightspace when open-source software can do more. It was stated that there needs to be an investigation of open-source options.
A student said that the university needs to change the way it presents itself to others. They stated that the public is not aware of the challenges and that the public needs to be reminded why Memorial was established. They said that the province’s best example of remembering WWI should not be allowed to crumble as well.
Provost Noreen Golfman then spoke to the points made and questions answered. She said that work was ongoing but that there were pockets of resistance and that doing this costs money and takes time and resources to put into place.
Regarding funding campaigns, Golfman said that the university’s development office is under-resourced compared to other institutions. She noted that Memorial has a quiet campaign as there are no resources to undertake large initiatives.
Golfman then addressed the comment about advocacy that some of the water cooler conversations suggest that Memorial is bloated in its administration. She said there are other countermyths out there as well. Golfman stated that the post-secondary review panel had heightened awareness of the university’s situation. She said they do a decent job at showing the public what is actually happening at Memorial. She said that $25 million a year is needed to get MUN to the point of not derogating the university more.
Golfman then brought up the comprehensiveness of programs and that they need a way to balance how to maintain the SME complement across academics. What does the special mission to the province mean if the university is not comprehensive?
There was another session held on November 19th, 2019, that took place at 7 PM.
A student stated that the progressive tuition model that the administration is proposing is a lazy way to increase revenue and will make the university less accessible for some. The student questioned who will decide which students pay how much, and it could lead to a model of more support for some and less support for others.
MUNFA President Ken Snelgrove asked if the university should be involved in the re-distribution of wealth. He also asked if the university should be looking at a means test to determine students’ ability to pay tuition and questioned the role of that for the university.
A student said they have not seen the administration hold a town hall to explain to the public why the government is wrong and misguided in its decision to cut funding. The student said that the administration’s comments about budget cuts are a smokescreen. The student then stated that it was the administration’s job to convince the government of the value of Memorial for the university to receive the best possible funding from the government. Next, the student questioned why members of the administration were not doing their jobs.
MUNFA President Snelgrove stated that he agrees with the student. He says that the students, faculty, and administration must come together to frame a common story, not to the government but to the people of the province. He stated that folks at MUN must come up with a compelling story about the survival of the university and that MUN should be an important part of the future of the province. He also said that the people of the province need to advocate more for the importance of Memorial to the government.
A student made a recommendation to reduce administrative costs. They suggested a 3% reduction for staff making $300k or more, 2% for $200k or less, and 1% for 100k for a total savings of over 1.5 million per year. The student asked if the administration would be receptive to this.
MUNFA President Snelgrove stated that he could not support the student’s suggestion from the perspective of MUNFA President. However, he stated that there should be cuts to staff costs that he said have been enormous.
Snelgrove then commented on the productivity at the university. He said that a lot of time is spent at the university and a lot of time at the Math building. He stated that people are spending a lot of time shuffling around to accommodate work in the building, such as for asbestos abatement, and it seems like many people are distracted. He said that it is difficult to focus on their core mission and that the tools that they need are not close by. He noted that MUN needs productive workspaces beyond safe workspaces. He stated that there is a need to focus on energy where it should be focused and that the university should be looking at what is a productive workspace. He said the university should ask units what makes a productive workspace.
A student asked if it would be possible for there to be an external audit of MUN’s budget and spending. The student stated that it is not the job of the Auditor General. The student said that Provost Golfman travels the world on the dime of the students. The student stated that administrative bloat, hosting costs, and external consultants’ costs are just what is currently known. The student said an audit is needed so it can be seen where the administrative bloat is.
Snelgrove said that he is concerned about the pension issue, which is why he got involved in MUNFA. He said that it has been an issue year after year and that the pension has not been addressed at all. He said it continues with no answer, and he worries that these are not static issues. Snelgrove said he is worried about what will happen in the long term. He said it is stable in the investment world but asked what happens if there is a downturn.
A student brought up a statement that former Premier Brian Tobin made many years ago “students made it impossible for me not to freeze tuition fees.” The student asked about benchmarking in tuition and what the university is not trying to be the most accessible and asked why not be an example to the rest of the country.
The next question for participants was about emerging priorities and that we must address significant social changes, including equity, diversity and inclusion, and climate change.
Snelgrove said that he was pleased to hear about the partnerships with the territorial Governments. He said that it sounds like an opportunity for revenue growth by partnering with other groups. However, he said that on the other side the university could increase revenue or reduce costs. He stated that the people of the province need to realize what is going to be lost if cuts are made across the board. He said it leads to productivity decrease and is taking up much time. He said that decisions need to be made about what will not be here, a plan for fiscal responsibility.
A student asked if it would be possible to get a commitment from the administration that there would be a student referendum before more fees are implemented. The student said that it is the idea that the administration has that they know what is best for students. The student asked why the university couldn’t leave it up to students to decide whether the fees needed to be implemented.
A student then asked about senior administrators’ salaries and if they would take a specific cut and then talked about extreme wage disparity.
A student then asked how the students and the administration speak with one voice when they have conflicting goals. The student said that they did not have a chance to have a say about the student services fee and the infrastructure fee.
With regards to advocacy, Golfman said that she agrees that the university needs to continue to communicate with the government about the situation of Memorial. She said that the government tells the university that they need to manage the cuts the best they can. She said that it would be great if all residence of Newfoundland and Labrador would get behind the university to get across the importance and need for funding to the government.
Golfman said that it is not a decision for the university between reducing expenses or generating revenue, but the university needs to do both. On another note, she said that the university needs to find a way to produce the best working and learning spaces possible.
Another session was held on Wednesday, November 20th, 2019, with around 40-50 people in attendance.
A student asked why the administration imposes the idea that the university must operate as a business when the university is a public institution. The student then brought up the concept of professionalism and that these people are just simply performing a role. The student brought up the privileged status of Ph.D.’s. The student said that the way the student services fee was implemented had limited consultation. The student stated that the previous Director of Student Life was one of the main people behind implementing the fee and then left MUN. The student then asked why the university allows administrators to implement new fees to enable these individuals to advance their careers.
A person brough up the issue of efficiency levels with the cut in staff positions and how it can be maintained. They said that everyone feels the crush. They then asked how the university can provide a positive experience for students when their environment is not in good shape.
A student brought up accessibility and students with disabilities. The student said that the Blundon Centre had been neglected for years, and it was only recently that they finally hired additional staff for the centre. The student asked if it would be possible to place a higher priority on accessibility, like the unsafe condition of the elevators in the education building. The student then asked why the university seems to encourage students to file human rights complaints rather than dealing with those issues and helping students.
The Dean of Graduate Studies, Aimee, stated that she agrees with the student’s comment. She said the EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) must be kept at the top of our minds. She said that adding to the university’s priorities is not easy, but it is a significant value. She stated that graduate fellowships are incredibly important for accessibility for students from a variety of backgrounds.
A person then stated that it is becoming apparent that it is challenging to implement new programs and change existing ones. The person indicated that without faculty and support to proceed that it is hard. The person said they met with a group that wanted to introduce a program for teaching the hearing impaired, but it cannot be developed. They said that looking for external funding adds another layer of challenge. They said that programming for the deaf and hard of hearing has disappeared in NL. They asked how the Dean can be responsive and make programs accessible.
Another person brought forward a perspective from the lens of both the academic and administrative sides. They said that they support the comprehensive piece and that renewal will bring in new skill sets. It is essential for program development. They stated that they had a child who went to Queen’s University because the program was not offered here at MUN. From the administrative side of things, she said her eyes had been opened to the IT infrastructure challenges. They then said that with respect to administrative efficiency – staff reductions had reached their end.
An individual then reinforced the point made about staff reductions being done and that now it needs to be looked at how to incentive sharing resources and partnerships across the units. They said that people are increasingly operating in silos when budgets are tied. They then said that new program development, like special fees, had allowed the development of new programs. They stated that that couldn’t be done at the undergraduate level due to tuition being too low to make new programs cost recovery.
A student stated that the proposed progressive tuition model is false and that it will leave out a high number of students who will not be able to access Memorial. They then stated that students would be left out if they do not meet the criteria. The student then asked if salaries would be decreased and if administrators would take a salary cut. The student specifically asked about the president’s salary and whether it will be reduced or remain on the backs of students?
A person then brought up a point about space and buildings and how Memorial struggled with the issue. They asked how Memorial can use the physical infrastructure to increase efficiency and improve the academic experience. They then asked if the buildings were being used as efficiently as possible. They then stated that it is not just about deferred maintenance and that it is part of the efficiency and infrastructure.
Another person stated that it is disappointing to try to advise students when space is not appropriate, and there are no suitable alternatives available. They said that scheduling software would be an excellent way to improve the use of space.
It was then asked if leasing empty office space in the City of St. John’s would be an option while the university deals with deferred maintenance. Better collaboration is needed across the university.
A student then asked if the university could give students the option to opt-out of fees.
Golfman said that the principle of ensuring access to programs might need to be nuanced to include EDI issues. She said that it might end up being a priority based on the discussions they’ve been having related to the consultation sessions. Golfman said that the diversity of what faculty and staff look like is increasing, and the university needs to consider this. She noted that homogeneity is not always the best option.
Regarding space issues, Golfman said that there is a buildings and space committee that is looking at the campus and how it is used. She said the university needs to be more efficient and student0centered when assigning space across campus. Golfman said that space is not being used wisely.
Furthermore, Golfman said the nuancing the priorities out more. She said that both herself are the president are against an academic prioritization exercise and called it an unhealthy activity.
The next session was held on November 21st, 2019, from 12:30 PM to 2:00 PM.
A person asked about increased revenue and said that tuition is a small part of revenue. They asked if the university had made any projections to show the impact of rising tuition and showed it to the government. Golfman responded that it is a mote concern that if the university raises revenue through tuition, that government will claw back that amount from the budget allocation.
A student asked why the university is stuck in a neo-liberal model with annual revenue generation. The student then said that the focus is on short-term gain and not a long-term vision and asked why the university chose this model. Golfman said that she did not understand the question and that the university is in short- and long-term survival mode.
A person then states that there has not been a strategic plan for increased efficiencies, infrastructure, and tech renewal. They said that a plan is needed to identify how the university can be leaner. They then said that folks at the university need to work together more and stop protecting their own silos.
It was then stated that the downturn in industry and economy added to the government cuts and made it hard to build an entrepreneurial culture. They said that this makes it difficult to plan. Additionally, they state that being locked into collective agreements adds to the challenge. They said that the university needs to look at the entrepreneurial approaches to increasing revenue.
A person stated that they worked in DND during the Decade of Darkness (Rick Hilliard), and the organization would email all members asking for suggestions and ideas to save money. They said that this could also be done at MUN.
Another person brought up increased revenue and how other universities are exploring innovative models across the university. For example, partnerships with sports teams, parking, vendors on campus (food), technology parks, leasing space with partners who collaborate with the university (revenue or leasing), outsourcing of services and partnership agreements, and separately incorporated units. They said it is essential to make it a win-win situation regarding revenue and cost-sharing.
A student said that the federal government gave several hundred million for the Core Science Building and asked why they can’t provide money to offset the budget issue. The response was that education is a provincial responsibility.
A person asked about the concerns or issues in exploring shared costs across and with the government. They stated that the approach works with the college next door to explore synergies and that MUN need to find ways to collaborate more. Golfman responded that it is a political challenge that raises questions about the university’s autonomy. She said that they are sitting at the table in good faith but that they do not want the university’s infrastructure and capacity to be used or exploited to the detriment of the university’s services.
Another person suggested a review of charge-out rates for the equipment that the university offers to the community. They said that industry should pay fair market value for the services that the university offer. They then stated that they were surprised to learn that the charge-out rate for the Flum tank had not changed in 10 years.
The issue of faculty and staff wellness was then brought up, and it was said that there would be more stress on the people remaining to do more work and that this could lead to individuals taking more time off.
A person then brought up parking issues and asked if that is a way that the university can work with the city to change the local culture rather than posing it as a university-only issue. Golfman said that the university has been doing that.
A point was then made about revenue generation at MI and that Transport Canada is going to announce that they will take foreign seafarers and allow them to work on Canadian vessels. It was said that students want to come to Canada and that the university should develop online modules that are student-led and self-paced. It was stated that people around the world want a Canadian education, including international seafarers. Instructors and developers will be needed for a project like this.
A person said that folks at the university need to get the good stories out to the public and suggested that this can be done by sharing them with Paddy Daly on VOCM. It is most important to do this when the provincial government starts talking about MUN’s budget.
A student asked if the provincial government decides to implement an out-out of fees model similar to that in Ontario if MUN has a plan if it happens.
A person asked if large endowments like SUNY have been considered. Another person stated that the cost per dollar raised is 12-14 percent, and nationally, it is 25 percent. They said that MUN does not have the same history and programs are younger; they grew up while donors were more restricted in their donations. They said that old endowments would have been open and support operations. They stated that making a significant operating revenue would require a very sizeable endowment, but it can significantly impact targeted initiatives.
It was then asked if it has ever been considered to share major infrastructure between MUN and Dalhousie University like ships. They asked if the infrastructure was desirable and if it would be a federal interest. Golfman responded that the Oceans Frontiers Institute was the first real breakthrough in this regard.
Matt Barter is a fourth-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.