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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 2012

Reform Recommendations Do Little to Thaw Controversy

The landscape of higher education in Nova Scotia is shifting as fallout continues from a 2010 report on the province’s university system.

Faculty and students have reacted strongly to a plan released last month by NSCAD University’s board of governors that recommends fewer professors and higher tuition fees at the 125-year-old fine arts school.

The Nova Scotia government provided a $2.4 million cash bailout to the university last year in response to yet another consultant’s report, and in order to keep the school afloat, but tied payment to a commitment by the university to investigate opportunities for collaboration with other schools, as well as to come up with a viable financial plan.

The board’s plan — now with the province’s Advanced Education Department — suggests eliminating 26 of the current 150 positions at the school through lay-offs and retirement incentives, and calls for charging students 3 per cent more in tuition fees, along with introducing an assortment of added student fees and “adjustments,” to bring the university in line with “provincial averages.” NSCAD has about 1,000 students.

It’s not known yet how many of the 26 job cuts will affect faculty members and how many will impact secretarial and maintenance staff, who belong to the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees’ Union.

Alvin Comiter, president of the faculty union of NSCAD, calls the plan a “thinly veiled threat to our programs and our jobs,” and says people potentially affected by the proposed changes feel betrayed.

“At public forums and in closed-door meetings, we were repeatedly told by the board’s representatives that with ‘shared sacrifice’ there would be ‘no vertical cuts’ and ‘no layoffs.’ In direct contradiction, along with large increases to student costs, the very focus of the report is on permanently eliminating faculty and staff,” said the union in a written statement.

The province has yet to respond to the board’s plan, which also said “informal” talks have begun for possible collaboration arrangements with Dalhousie University and Saint Mary’s University.

A 2010 report authored by government-appointed consultant Tim O’Neill pointed to NSCAD as a university in crisis, and recommended internal restructuring or consideration of a merger for the beleaguered school, which has been struggling under a burgeoning deficit traceable to the university’s expansion to the Halifax waterfront in 2007.

O’Neill’s report also suggested a merger of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and Dalhousie, a partnership recently agreed to by the pro­vince and expected to be fina­lized by July 1.

The merger means the 107-year-old college located in Truro-Bible Hill will cease to be a stand-alone institution and become a faculty within Dalhousie on a distinct campus. All college staff now represented by the government and general employees union “will move with their collective agreements to Dalhousie University and will stay in the province’s Public Service Super-annuation Plan,” according to a government news release. Future contracts will be negotiated with Dalhousie.

Anthony Stewart, president of the Dalhousie Faculty Association, says while the merger is a complicated issue, “we are operating on the good faith assumption that there will be no job losses at least within faculty. My concern is for the administrative staff and what may happen to them.”

The 66 faculty members at the college will likely join the DFA. But 228 non-faculty employees at the college who are considered civil servants stand to possibly lose a number of benefits they now enjoy when they transition to different bargaining units or non-unionized positions at Dalhousie.

Although the institutions aim to be ready under the merger for the fall term, some of the financial sticking points looming over the endeavor remain murky, says Stewart.

“Call it a merger, call it a take-over, there’s still an awful lot to get done to incorporate faculty in the DFA, including resolution of differences in the pension and salary grids. I sincerely hope this will work out to the benefit of all parties. The tricky part will be the logistics,” he said.

The agricultural college has almost 1,000 students taking credit courses. Dalhousie, located in Halifax, has sanctioned the college’s degrees for the last 30 years.