Bargaining Bulletin #10: Where's the money going?

The Employer continues to not adequately address YUFA proposals that would make much needed improvements to the working conditions of York faculty. It has been exceptionally difficult for our Bargaining Team, which continues to work tirelessly to find agreement with the Employer on reasonable policy proposals. These proposals, widely supported by our members, would make our work more collegial, more equitable, and more sustainable.

YUFA’s bargaining proposals are not mainly concerned with monetary issues, due to the limits set by Bill 124. Thus, it is hard for the Bargaining Team to understand the source of this intransigence. Some high-stake items, such as YUFA’s desire to preserve the Dispute Resolution Committee (not a YUFA proposal but rather our Bargaining Team’s response to the employer’s proposal), involve cost savings to both YUFA and the employer. Others, such as equity and workload proposals and our objection to pension cuts, do hold moderate monetary implications.

York University has posted a significant budget surplus now totalling $386 million. Where is the money going, if not to the betterment of programs and working conditions at York University?

The consolidated financial statements provided annually to the York University community are so general as to make it virtually impossible to follow issues of key importance to YUFA members. Furthermore, the administration has failed to respect its obligation, under article 7.04 of the Collective Agreement, to participate in regular meetings of the Financial Information Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on the Administration of the Agreement to share financial information. YUFA’s Sub-Committee on Governance considers that the following detailed financial information would be important to obtain with respect to the April 30, 2021, consolidated financial statements:

What is clear however is that the university’s reported budget surplus is not going to faculties. In recent years, faculties across Keele and Glendon Campus have seen funding reduced by new budget management systems, and colleagues have been alarmed and intimidated by senior administration’s warning of massive deficits. For example: AMPD was informed it faces a $12 million dollar deficit; Faculty of Education, a $10 million dollar deficit; Faculty of Environment and Urban Change, a $12 million dollar deficit; LA&PS and Glendon College have both been informed of significant deficits to their faculties.

Clearly the record surplus is not going to academic programs on the Keele or Glendon Campuses. Since 2018, York University has embarked on a number of capital projects that require significant resources. The largest in scope is a new campus at Markham. The Employer has arguably “borrowed” 150 million dollars from Keele Operating Funds to support the new campus. Emphasizing entrepreneurship and applied research in its promotions for the Markham campus, York appears confident in its gambling that funding for the new campus, first promised and then withdrawn by the provincial government, will be provided from new public-private partnerships, corporate donations, credentialing models, tuition revenues, and existing budget items, such as the proposed 5% cut to YUFA members’ pensions.
In a similar vein, in 2019, the university proposed a “futuristic building for the human brain.” This new facility is slated to be built on the north end of the Keele campus. Although stalled for three years, the university recently gained permits to start construction of the project in February 2022.

While building continues for these projects, York has further announced a plan, with no start-date, no indication of dedicated funded, for re-structuring Keele campus that is described as this way: “Living Well Together begins with the reinvigoration of the Harry W. Arthurs Common, the location of York University station on the new Yonge-University Subway line, as well as the development of four new neighbourhoods within the Keele Campus including: a commercial centre; a high-tech district; a primarily residential district; and a second residential, commercial, and athletic neighbourhood closer to the Pioneer Village station, located in the Northwest section of the Keele Campus.”

These are all significant real estate developments being built under the auspices of the York University Development Corporation, whose board of directors is comprised of senior administrators of York University. Despite the administration’s plan to “reinvigorate” the Keele campus, we have seen little projected or documented intention of using surpluses to replenish faculties working with deficit budgets, such as Glendon College. We can see no mention here of renovation to libraries, offices, washrooms, meeting spaces, libraries, ill-equipped classrooms, parking fees, or full-time faculty complement or teaching load. The administration’s priorities are evidenced instead in depleted academic faculty budgets, difficult contract negotiations with various employee unions, and the absence of much needed updates to Keele campus. This has created great stress among YUFA members.

Along with these two major building projects, President Lenton recently announced via Yfile a proposal for a new medical school at York University. This proposal caught Senate colleagues and the university community off guard as it was created without any consultation from York University faculty or the Senate. The province’s recent announcement of two new medical schools planned for Scarborough and Brampton raise additional questions about this proposal. Who will fund it, if not the province?

As shown in the case of Sudbury’s Laurentian University, embarking on rapid growth without a solid financial plan can lead to disastrous consequences for the University and its faculties. Under president Robert Hache, formerly York VP Research and Innovation in York’s administration, Laurentian declared bankruptcy in 2021. The university cancelled 49 programs, including mathematics, philosophy, physics, music, and northern and Indigenous studies, and terminated 110 full time tenured professors. Laurentian’s restructuring process is managed by the private company Nous, presently mandated with (and compensated for) overseeing the restructuring of Glendon College. Nous published an “operational review” of Laurentian’s financial crisis on March 2, 2022, stating that Laurentian University will need to invest up to $32.5 million over three years for a "major transformation program", and recommending new efficiencies in its management. As President of the Laurentian Faculty Association commented, “many of the issues the operational review identified were already well known. "Why have we not been spending time and money on these priorities?" he said. "Why were they not able to be identified by senior leaders?"

We ask the Employer to agree to proposals that would provide increased oversight by YUFA members in individual faculties and by Senate.

We call on the Employer to support our proposals to enhance faculty and student work and the overall educational experience.