King’s Students protesting fee hikes watch a Board member ascend the stairs Photo: Moira Donovan
King’s Students protesting fee hikes watch a Board member ascend the stairs Photo: Moira Donovan

Following a Board of Governors meeting at the University of King’s College, faculty and senior administrators have a wage freeze to look forward to for at least the upcoming year.

In an email sent out Thursday to faculty, staff and students, University President George Cooper and Board Chair Dale Godsoe said that the Board had accepted all 11 recommendations of the College Task Force, a group that was put together in November of last year to address the College’s financial problems.

Those recommendations were outlined in a report released on April 14, in which the Task Force suggested ways to help the College beat back the $1.4 million deficit it is expected to face next year. In addition to the wage freeze, the recommendations also included a 5 per cent reduction in the budget, although the exact nature of the cut will be determined by the Budget Advisory Committee in June.

Implementing the freeze is tricky at King’s, where the faculty is unevenly unionized. Carnegie professors, for instance, are jointly appointed by Dalhousie and King’s, and are exempt from the freeze. The Teaching Fellows in the Foundation Year Program are unionized, and are therefore also exempt; nor will the freeze apply to sessional instructors and staff making under $60,000.

In the past, King’s faculty wages maintained parity with the increases outlined in the agreements between Dalhousie and the Dalhousie Faculty Administration, but that stands to change with the adoption of the recommendations. Expenditure on Dal faculty and administrative salaries is projected to increase by $9.9 million in 2015-16.

The Task Force projected that the freeze – which is expected to run from at least July 1, 2015 until June 30, 2016, with the possibility of continuing the following year – will save the university $245,000. The combined effect of the recommendations is expected to save the college $1.36 million.

The recommendations also included a review of the university’s ancillary funds, something which the Board of Governors has handled with a decided lack of transparency in the past; in 2012, the Board voted in favour of charging each student a $180 annual athletics fee for membership at Dal’s new athletics facility, slated for completion in 2015-16. In a referendum held on the fee, 70 per cent of King’s students opposed the increase.

Although the issue of tuition fees wasn’t featured in the accepted recommendations, the rising cost of tuition isn’t far from students’ minds.

In a protest responding to the deregulation of tuition that was announced in the provincial budget, Board members filing upstairs to the meeting room on Thursday were greeted by King’s students silently lining the staircase, each of them holding a sign saying what increased tuition would mean for them.

They weren’t actually in the Boardroom, of course, because King’s Board of Governors meetings aren’t public. That, in itself, is cause for concern, said Aidan McNally, Financial Vice-President of the King’s Student Union.

“We are concerned that decisions being made are incredibly non-transparent,” she said. “We know that those decisions being made are the ones that directly impact students… yet we are unable to know if the Board is taking the interests of students to heart.”

The Board of Governors sets tuition, said McNally, and has in the past responded to decreased provincial funding by increasing the financial burden on students.

The Friday following the budget, George Cooper sent an email out to students saying that tuition fees for 2015-16 would not be affected by the budget, but added that it’s too early to say what the effect would be on tuition in 2016-17.

At a university like King’s, where enrolment is declining, it’s a delicate balance for an administration relying on tuition fees for revenue to not deter potential recruits. Even before the provincial budget was announced, King’s was already facing difficulties with recruitment; enrolment dropped by 7 per cent in 2014, and full-time undergraduate enrolment in 2014 stood at 1001, a drop of 16.4 per cent from three years previous.

But McNally said it isn’t enough for the Board to exercise restraint for financial reasons alone, especially when the challenges to post-secondary education, including decreased government funding, are numerous.

“We need the Board to see tuition fees as not a revenue generating option but as a barrier for students to access post secondary education,” she said. “They have a responsibility to us… we need them to listen to the concerns of students and to join us in advocating and lobbying the government for more money to sustain our very vibrant post secondary education in Nova Scotia.”

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