In Saturday’s Daily Gleaner, University of New Brunswick president Eddy Campbell claimed he has no choice but to cut nearly $3 million from the university’s operating budget next year, with other millions in cuts yet to come.
This is despite the recent three per cent increase in provincial funding for UNB.
Expenses have overrun revenues, he said, so “targeted cuts” are necessary.
Deficits are constructed through choices. In this case, the UNB administration makes choices about where to spend the university’s money.
Many budget choices are sensible: for example, the decision that UNB’s fairly high tuition should come more into line with tuition nationally.
At other times the choices made by UNB administrators are less self-evident.
What makes for excellence in university education? Quality education depends mainly on the number, competence, working conditions and dedication of teachers and librarians.
Perhaps that’s obvious, but UNB’s administration has been making different spending choices for years.
It hasn’t been investing in attracting and retaining teaching staff. While student enrolment has increased by more than 30 per cent since 1984, the number of full-time faculty rose by just 8.1 per cent.
In his announcement about possible spending cuts, the president says that much of UNB’s operating budget goes to salaries. But spending on salaries for teachers and librarians as a share of the university’s total expenditures has already decreased dramatically, from 34.3 per cent in 1984 to 24.6 per cent in 2008.
Don’t we need to be investing more in what matters to students and their families – the academic mission – not less?
So where is the UNB administration spending its money, and is it spending wisely? Pictured on the front page of Saturday’s Gleaner was the palatial, five-story Currie Center, rising dramatically at the foot of Fredericton’s College Hill.
UNB administrators predict that servicing the debt on this venture is going to cost up to $1 million a year for 25 years.
On top of that, they say the annual operating costs for the centre could approach another $1 million.
From now on, every mention of UNB’s so-called “structural” deficit will conjure up a very concrete five-storey image.
And then there’s the use of the university’s historic woodlot and wetlands for a big box shopping centre. UNB’s administration is directing more than half a million dollars in revenue flowing from the “woodlot” to this year’s capital budget.
Not a penny of this revenue is going to the operating budget that supports teaching. If it were, the UNB administration would not now be proposing such hefty spending cuts.
UNB’s new president says we need to grow our student body. We do, and we can.
At UNB we continue to open the doors of perception for some of Canada’s brightest students. We continue to transform lives.
But we can do this only by investing in the core academic mission of the university, so that we can retain and attract dedicated and talented staff and ambitious students.