Deficit Duels: How University Spending Negates Students, Staff and Mission Statements

Friday, October 24, 2014


Written by Jaimee-Lisa Cotter

The University of Guelph’s Program Prioritization Progress has recently come under fire from the University of Guelph Faculty and Administration, and with good reason: while tuition rates continue to soar, Guelph’s projected $3.4 million deficit in the midst of a crippling budget crackdown on countless academic programs has students and employees of the university spinning.

Recently, University of Guelph Faculty and Administration launched an investigation into the institutions spending and finances, and released the 2013 Analysis of University Finances. The 16 page report gives an in depth summary of expenditures and financial adjustments made on behalf of the university, and put the numbers in line with the University of Guelph’s mission statement.

Presented on 21 November, 1995, the University of Guelph’s Mission Statement focuses heavily on the relationships between teaching and learning, and scholarship and research:

The University of Guelph is a research-intensive, learner-centered university. Its core value is the pursuit of truth. Its aim is to serve society and to enhance the quality of life through scholarship. Both in its research and in its teaching programs, the university is committee to a global perspective.

The university offers a wide range of excellent programs, both theoretical and applied, disciplinary and interdisciplinary, undergraduate and graduate, in the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, as well as professional fields. Among these, it recognizes agriculture and veterinary medicine as areas of special responsibility.

The university attracts students, faculty, and staff of the highest quality. It is animated by a spirit of free and open inquiry, collaboration, and mutual respect. It asserts the fundamental equality of all human beings and is committed to creating for all members of its community, an environment that is hospitable, safe, supportive, equitable, pleasurable, and above all, intellectually challenging.

The University of Guelph is determined to put the learner at the center of all it does, recognizing that research and teaching are intimately linked and that learning is a life-long commitment. The University eagerly promotes collaboration among undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, alumni, as well as with our local and international community, other educational institutions, government and business.

The University of Guelph is committed to the highest standards of pedagogy, to the education and well-being of the whole person, to meeting the needs of all learners in a purposefully diverse community, to the pursuit of its articulated learning objectives, to rigorous self-assessment, and to a curriculum that fosters creativity, skill development, critical inquiry, and active learning. The University of Guelph educates students for life and work in a rapidly changing world.

The University of Guelph invites public scrutiny of the fulfillment of its mission, especially by the people of Ontario, to whom it is accountable.  

Overall, this is an accurate representation of what a university should strive for, and hold their institution accountable to, but several points made in the mission statement are counterintuitive to the budget analysis and the Program Prioritization Progress. Although they claim to invite public scrutiny, the only way to gain access to PPP documented presentations and reports requires the entry of a central log in ID, which only students and staff possess. If they are open to public scrutiny, why is it that the “people of Ontario”, to whom they are “accountable”, cannot access information pertaining to fundamental changes in the university’s curriculum? With the importance that the mission statement places on the relationship of learning and teaching, it seems odd that they would continue to eliminate sections for larger courses, classes, and phase out entire programs when the PPP clearly states its commitment to “sustainability of small programs”, and to “review specialized foundational or core courses” such as those under the College of Arts.

To top things off, the university was recently in a stand-off with faculty regarding salary, benefits, and job security as the faculty union contract was up for revision in the midst of a severe budget cut to academic and non-academic programs. This claimed commitment to teaching starts on the front line: with the teachers. Professors, teaching assistants and other faculty already take a significant blow to their income through union dues, pension payments and other expenditures that ensure benefits for them and their families.

In fact, the costs of both salaries and benefits have shown a slightly downward trend as a percentage of total revenue for the university. Although a small portion of the highest earning UGFA members make the Sunshine List—a list of public sector salaries in accordance with 1996 Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, allowing Ontario citizens to view the salaries of those in public office who earn over $100,000 per year— this is only a recent development. The UGFA’s report cites salary increases ranging from 46.2 per cent to 64.6 per cent over the last 13 years, and in one occasion a 73.4 percent increase in salary as the record high for the department.

However, increases in salaries outside of the UGFA which extend to the highest level of administration has seen increases from around 65 per cent to over 100:

The average Associate Dean position has seen a salary increase of 65.4 per cent in a mere 13 years.

The average Vice President of the University has experienced an increase of 79.1 per cent.

The average Dean salary has increased, since 1996, by 98.9 per cent.

And at the top of the list, at an incredible 160.7 per cent increase is the salary of the President.

In the mounds of charts and tables that the administration presented to the UGFA, only these four were discernable from the rest. The remaining “Admin & General Salaries” component of the presentation presented only a lump sum represented as a percentage of total salaries, produced via information from the Council of Ontario Universities.

The strangest thing about the data presented by University Administration is that counter to a projected deficit, the Operating Fund has generated a surplus every year since 2006. That means the last six years of running the university have been seen to with funds left over.

According to the UGFA’s report the charts presented implied that the University of Guelph scored low percentages when set against other universities in Ontario, but there was no data presented or disclosed from which to verify the claim regarding other universities, much less the operating costs for the listed programs at the University of Guelph.

If the university is in the midst of a deficit, then a decrease in financial risk would have been a welcomed surprise: the weight of interest costs decreased minutely but steadily over the course of 2008 to 2010. While two years of slight financial gain may not be cause to celebrate, the university recorded what the UGFA claims could be record surpluses in the years 2011 and 2012, the most dramatic in the history of the institution. The raw surplus in 2011 was $25 million, and exceeded that in 2012 coming to a whopping total of $26 million. That is no less than $51 million dollars that could be put towards the mission of the University of Guelph, which cites itself as its primary models being teaching and scholarship.

So how is it that in the eyes of the university administration a deficit of $32 million will in a number of years press financial burden on us? Two years of revenue increase garnered from tuition and external donations should be enough to quell fears of deficit, should it not? 

The yearly realized surplus, considering 2011 and 2012 separately, is just shy of enough to cancel out the original projected deficit, and that does not even factor internally restricted funds with specific allocation on behalf of donors supporting the university. That $51 million is a sum that can be used— wherever the university desires—to improve any facet of research, programming, or scholarship.

To make matters even better for University of Guelph, 2011 and 2012 also saw record investment purchases on behalf of the university: money was found elsewhere aside from the $51 million in revenue and outside of internally restricted funds to allow for the purchase of capital assets.

While investing in resources outside of the university is recognized as important by the UGFA in the report, it begs an important question. When there is enough funding to set an all-time high investment record through external resources, why is it that other activities of equal (and arguably even greater) importance according to the university’s mission and starved for funding allocation?

The UGFA analysis not only shed light on the financial activity of University Administration, but highlights the lack of accordance the spending has in common with the university’s mission statement. Claiming a deficit of $32 million when the institution is nearly matching that in generated revenue alone each year, cutting funding for Arts programming and laboratory resources, and ranking parking lots as the number one source of income for programming is a terrible way to go about “changing lives, improving life”.  

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