The YUFA Sub-Committee on Governance is continuing its task to inform YUFA members about key governance issues that affect our work and educational community. This communique will focus on the administration’s encroachment on Senate authority with its proposed changes at Glendon, finance-driven academic planning in Ontario, and financial accountability at York with respect to debt management policy, use of outside consultants and costly capital or ancillary expenditures.
I. Glendon College
The Sub-Committee is concerned that the process set in place by the administration for changing the academic structure and course offerings at Glendon has circumvented the responsibilities of Glendon Faculty Council and Senate for academic decision-making under the York Act. We have highlighted similar concerns about academic planning processes at the Markham campus.
Glendon Faculty Council Regulations stipulate that “Faculty Council is the governing body of Glendon faculty. Faculty Council shall establish policy on all academic matters pertaining to the faculty.” Notwithstanding, draft proposals for restructuring are being generated by the administration and presented as part of the Principal’s remarks, rather than as items for discussion by Council, thus limiting collegial debate. Recently, the Glendon Principal carried out a survey of Glendon faculty members asking them to choose between two models of academic unit reorganisation. There was no prior discussion with Glendon Faculty Council about the content of the poll, its role in the academic decision-making process, or its consequences for faculty members. That the administration is attempting to force changes with such serious implications for faculty and students is deeply worrisome for collegial governance at York.
Under the latest restructuring proposal, dated February 28, 2023, and presented at the March 3, 2023, meeting of Glendon Faculty Council, current departments at Glendon would become programs under four new department units. Rights are invested in departments within the Collective Agreement and Department Chairs have well defined roles and responsibilities with respect, among others, to tenure and promotion processes and the assigning of teaching load. As programs, disciplines would be at the mercy of the new department to which they are assigned for setting course and academic priorities. The proposed change would have significant implications for the courses assigned to faculty and their ability to ensure the integrity of their academic offerings. It would also have considerable impact on workload, including not only the extra work triggered by the restructuration itself, but the additional workload that will result from the suppression of administrative support and administrative positions as defined in Appendix P. The projected cost savings, as presented by the administration, are minor in the context of York’s overall budget. No details have been provided to substantiate the savings or disclose what kind of ‘debt’ the proposed departmental units will be facing under the Sharp budget model.
II. The Ontario Auditor General’s Report: Finance-driven Academic Planning
The Sub-Committee draws YUFA members’ attention to a new report by the Ontario Auditor General, Financial Management in Ontario Universities. Building on the Ontario government’s performance measures and targets funding approach, the report supports ‘profitability’ as a primary factor in academic planning. Four Ontario universities Algoma, Nipissing, Ontario Tech, and Windsor are evaluated, among other criteria, for ‘analyzing the profitability of academic programming and adjusting offerings where appropriate to improve financial sustainability’ (p. 2). Tables present the ‘profitability’ of faculties at these institutions, without considering variations in instruction costs by discipline. Regardless of their importance for their local communities, programs such as nursing and education, which require a low student-instructor ratio, are deemed ‘unprofitable.’ While the information in the report shows that large capital projects are far more likely to cause financial sustainability concerns than small program ‘deficits,’ this is not acknowledged, leaving an undue focus on programs’ ‘profitability.’
The report’s narrow assessment of academic ‘value’ is clearly not conducive to a meaningful long-term perspective through a more comprehensive understanding of ‘value.’ However, it does reflect the current university context in Ontario and underscore how important it is that York’s Faculty Councils and Senate maintain their key role in academic planning and collegial responsibility for academic integrity. The Governance Committee again encourages members to contact the YUFA Senate Caucus for information about how to get involved.
III. Improving Financial Accountability
The Auditor General’s report highlighted other financial risk factors: failure in “establishing or adhering to policies limiting external borrowing and debt servicing costs,” “not preparing budgets and cash flows that are complete and accurate to control spending and make better financial decisions,” and “failing to assess the financial feasibility of major capital projects before proceeding with them” (p. 2).
With respect to debt management, according to the Auditor General’s report, in 2020-2021, York had the 6th highest ($11,600) debt per Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) Student of 19 Ontario universities. In May 2021 the Board approved a Long-term Debt Policy, to become effective on January 1, 2022. The policy prescribes some limits on debt, but the ceiling proposed ($12,250) would increase rather than decrease debt per FTE student. Also troubling, the policy affirms that the University may use debt to finance long-term capital projects, including ancillary capital projects, but it does not provide a framework for how the financial feasibility of large capital projects would be assessed.
The Sub-Committee is concerned about the implications for York’s financial sustainability of the Board’s increasing use of expensive outside consultants to drive decision-making processes. At the same May 2021 meeting, the Board approved an increase of $79M (from $41M to $120M), inclusive of HST, for the Student Systems Renewal Program (SSRP). This decision was “validated” by NOUS, the consulting firm used to restructure Glendon, and two-thirds of the over-run ($52.36M) are for “staffing and professional services (Architecture/PMQA).” The project is funded through the University Fund. To put these figures in perspective, in York’s multi-year budget plan 2021-22 to 2023-24, allocations from the University Fund (p. 30) for faculty complement renewal are $200,000 for 2022-2023 and $100,000 for 2023-2024, for Black faculty hires $500,000 for each year, and for research support $1.5M for each year.
The Sub-committee continues to underscore the need for more detailed financial reporting by the Board of Governors in order that the York community can better understand the impact of Board decisions on York’s financial viability and our work. Given the role of the York University Development Corporation (YUDC) in the Markham and Mackenzie campus expansion projects, we have asked the University Secretary to provide us with the YUDC articles of incorporation and its annual financial statements since 2015. We are awaiting a response.
YUFA Governance Committee
Arthur Hilliker (ex officio)
Susan Ingram (ex officio)
Agnes Whitfield (Chair)