HESA

Higher Education Strategy Associates

Tag Archives: Nova Scotia

May 29

Halifax, We Have a Problem

 

Passing through Halifax airport on Thursday, I realised that I have been remiss in not yet having covered the party platforms for tomorrow’s provincial election.   So, I set about reading the party platforms and then immediately wished I hadn’t because they’re basically a tidy encapsulation of most of what’s wrong with higher education policy in Canada.

Let’s start with the ruling Liberals.  Now, they haven’t done badly by PSE in government, especially in their last budget, which saw the sector get a 4% boost in real terms.  The only thing you can fault them for – and it’s a reasonably big fault – is that when they cut the $50 million Graduate Tax Rebate, they chose not to reinvest any of it either in students or in post-secondary more generally.

The Liberal platform promises no new money for institutions.  It does however, have an incredible grab-bag of micro-promises, all of which cost in the $1-4 million range, which is pretty small even for Nova Scotia (apparently they have learned the lesson that media coverage is proportional to the number of announcements, not the dollar value of those announcements).  They want to add an “Innovation Sandbox” to the seven that already exist, create a new provincial research agency, increase subsidies to hire master’s and doctoral graduates (as well as aboriginal, minority and disabled Nova Scotians) top up MITACS funding, eliminate tuition for apprentices when they leave work to complete technical training, expand opportunities for women and minorities in apprenticeships, increasing provincial student loans to $200/week and expanding loan forgiveness eligibility by changing the eligibility criteria from four years to graduation to five years.  Total annual cost of all that, when fully phased-in: about $13.5 million, with about three-quarters of that going to students one way or another.

Running neck and neck with the Liberals are the Progressive Conservatives, who have a much more limited set of pledges around post-secondary education.  Just three, in fact.  First, “force universities to focus on innovation and job creation” (are they not doing this already? What more are they supposed to do?); Second, roll tuition back to the Canadian average (about $900 per student); and third, reinstate the Graduate Tax Rebate that the Liberals axed.  The costing on these is tragic/hilarious.  Apparently neither of the first two promises will cost a cent – universities will have to eat the $30 million or so cost of the tuition pledge and whatever the hell it costs to meet this fantasy pledge about innovation and job creation.  And the graduate tax rebate?  $25 million – or only about half as generous as the program it’s meant to replace.  So, then, that’s a $55 million in net benefit to students, a real cut of $30 million plus to institutions.

Finally, we have the NDP platform.  The Dexter government pretty much made an unmitigated hash of the post-secondary file: cuts to institutional budgets, commissioning a visionary report on the future of the University System in the province and then more or less ignoring the results, etc.  But they have a fresh new set of proposals they’d like you to believe in.  It’s a three-parter: first, requiring PSE institutions to have policies on sexual violence; second, reduce tuition fees by 10% over four years and third, eliminate tuition at the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) altogether, a policy which faithful readers know I think makes a lot of sense).  Unlike the Tories, they seem to have more or less costed this correctly.   $38 million a year at full phase-in for the cut to university fees is a bit low because it seems to be based on 2014-15 fee income, but if you assume international students are exempted it will work just fine.  $36 million to get rid of fees at NSCC is about dead on, too.  The half-million for institutions to adopt policies about sexual assault is a bit of a mystery, but we’ll let that one go.  Total: $74.5 million, of which $74 million goes to students.

For those keeping count, that makes for somewhere in the neighbourhood of $140 million in total promises to students, and as near as $0 as makes no odds to universities and colleges (or negative $30 million, depending on how you count the Tory pledge).  Now, it’s not that any of these parties are actually going to freeze funding for four years.  More likely, you’ll see post-secondary spending rise more or less in line with nominal GDP growth, or a bit slower.  But that, as we all know, does not cover increases in running costs, which – since it’s a labour-intensive operation, naturally run consistently above inflation.

So whatever way this goes, we’re talking cuts at institutions to (in part) make PSE cheaper for students.

You can see how this will play out.  Universities, faced with cuts, will ask to raise fees. Politicians will grandstand and say: “Look at all the cuts you’re making.  Why should students pay more and receive less?  ”.  Institutional heads will then have to decide whether to tear their hair out in frustration or just go and recruit a boatload more international students to make up the difference.  No prizes for seeing how this will go.

This is not just a Nova Scotia phenomenon, of course.  More or less every provincial government has been doing this “feed-the-students, starve-the-institutions” for the last six years.    There’s no earthly rationale for this approach other than vote-buying.  It’s short-sighted, and needs to stop.

As for which party has the best policies?  Well, scratch the Tories.  I like the vision in the free community college pledge in the NDP platform, but a) distrust the execution because of the Dexter government’s record and b) I think at some point, we have to say no to vote-buying via giveaways to students.  So go with the Liberals.  Yeah, their platform is small, incremental and uninspiring.  But it’s the only one restrained enough to think there might be some money left over for investments in quality higher education.

January 18

Would Lower Tuition or Lower Student Debt Improve the Economy?

Short answer: not really, no.  But judging by this Chronicle Herald article last week entitled “Eliminating Tuition Fees would Buoy Bluenose Economy“, bad ideas die hard.  So let’s think this one through.

As I wrote back here, there are basically four ways to lower tuition or reduce student debt.  Government can raise taxes to pay for it, borrow to pay for it, re-allocate spending to pay for it, or reduce the cost of educational provision (i.e., cut spending on equipment and salaries).  If you choose the taxing, re-allocating, or cost-reduction methods, the net effect on the economy as a whole is zero.  Yes, students gain, but others lose, so it more or less nets out (exception: taking money from profs with a high propensity to save and giving it to students with a high propensity to spend actually probably would make a bit of a difference in the short-term, but since no one’s actually proposing that we’ll leave it aside).  Only by borrowing to reduce tuition/debt could government actually achieve the goal of a short-term boost; but then again, deficit spending on anything gives the economy a short-term boost.  What’s the case for spending it on students?

(A colleague has since pointed out to me that in theory there is a fifth option: the government could expand the money supply by printing money and using it to buy down student debt.  But that’s: a) not an option open to a provincial government; and, b) really unlikely to be used by a federal government, so I think we can confidently give this one a miss.)

There is certainly a case in Nova Scotia at least for spending some money on controlling student debt.  This is not a province that spends a whole lot on student aid – as we at HESA noted in our work on net prices, entitled The Many Prices of Knowledge.  Nova Scotia is for most students, by most measures, one of the most expensive places to study, so there’s not much doubt that some targeted assistance is in order. But free university tuition for everyone is obviously regressive, so making a case for that option is much harder.

The article doesn’t address the issue of regressivity but it does make quite a different case, which is that a province in as bad a demographic and economic situation as Nova Scotia needs to toss a bone to its youth.  And for what it’s worth, that’s true: the situation for youth in Nova Scotia is pretty dire, and out-migration is a serious issue.  But if that’s the problem you’re trying to combat, why give the biggest subsidies to that section of youth who: a) mostly come from better-off families; and, b) are likeliest to be making high salaries in the future?  Why direct money to them and not youth who haven’t accessed PSE?

If Nova Scotia really wants to do something big and bold, something that will attract or retain youth, and isn’t quite as brutally regressive, it should think about creating a type of tax rebate for all youth – say a 50% reduction on provincial taxes for anyone born within the last thirty years.  That’s a heck of a message to send to young workers – and one that might resonate outside the province as well.  And yes, okay, it’s still regressive, but likely less so than free tuition because at least it includes some benefits to those who don’t attend PSE.

Worth a thought, anyway.

May 06

Bill 100

A couple of weeks ago, the government of Nova Scotia introduced a very strange bill in the legislature.  Though nobody directly describes it this way, Bill 100 is effectively an academic Chapter 11: a set of rules under which a university can, in effect, declare bankruptcy and re-organize itself.

The basics of the Bill: in the event of a university getting into financial trouble, it will be permitted to submit a “revitalization plan” to government.  Assuming said plan finds favour with the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, the government will, in effect, suspend certain existing provisions of collective bargaining agreements in order to allow the institution to restructure – most notably the bits around financial exigency, which at some institutions require management to go through farcically-complicated rigmaroles in order to do fairly straightforward things, like lay-off staff in chronically under-enrolled programs (see for instance, pages 68-78 of St. FX’s 245-page Collective Agreement – yes, really – for an example).  Effectively, these provisions make it impossible, in practice, to carry out serious restructuring; hence, government’s interest in providing institutions with tools to do an end-run around them.

What has faculty unions up in arms are the Bill’s provisions suspending some the right to strike, and the right to grieve during the restructuring process.  Opponents of the Bill call these provisions unconstitutional.  It’s hard to know what to make of that.  On the face of it, these provisions do seem contrary at least to the spirit of recent Supreme Court decisions on the right to strike, though presumably the province’s lawyers aren’t completely asleep at the switch, and have some reasonable grounds for assuming the Bill will survive judicial review.

In some ways, this is a fight over nothing – it’s not as though universities are going to be lining up to use the Bill’s provisions.  Any institutions choosing to go down this route would be heading into a reputational and regulatory nightmare, (Julia Wright of Dalhousie makes some useful points re: the inadequacy of the Bill when it comes to externally accredited programs here).  It’s a very, very last resort.

So why is the province creating a mechanism no one will want to use?  Simple: the real purpose of this bill is to put faculty on notice that the “public university put” is over.  Academic unions ignore the issue of universities’ ability to pay ever-increasing wage settlements by assuming that, at the end of the day, universities are “too big to fail”, and governments will come along and bail out universities if spending commitments get too big.  By laying-out a mechanism by which universities can fail, government is signalling that it is in fact quite prepared to see them do so.  This, in theory, should moderate wage demands.

Various faculty groups have made submissions on the bill (see CAUT’s submission here), and with some justification I think have pointed out the troubling aspects of restricting the right to strike and the right to grieve.  What they are – I think willfully – ignoring is institutions’ growing financial crisis, and governments’ growing frustration with the inability of institutions to manage their wage bills.  As far as governments are concerned, everybody else in the public sector makes wage sacrifices in difficult times – why do faculty unions think they should be exempt from this?  Unless academic unions can come up with a persuasive answer to this question, they should expect more legislation like Bill 100.

April 16

De-Regulating Tuition in Nova Scotia

There seems to be a lot of interest in this Nova Scotia budget announcement on tuition-fee de-regulation, mostly from the everything-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket crowd.  In the interests of trying to keep people’s eyes on the ball, I thought I would try to put this move into some kind of context and examine what the likely outcomes will be.

(Necessary conflict of interest statement: In fall 2014, I did some writing work for the Nova Scotia Council of University Presidents, relating to priorities for the 2015 budget.  Make of that what you will.)

To start, let’s be clear about what the province has done.  It has allowed universities to do two things:

1)      For out-of-province, international and graduate students, the government has permanently de-regulated tuition fees

2)      For in-province undergraduates, tuition fees are being de-regulated for one year only, in order to allow institutions to make a one-time “adjustment” to program fees, after which tuition will return to having a 3% annual cap.

Now, some people assume that the term “de-regulation” means everyone is going to go hog-wild on fees.  But this isn’t necessarily true: remember that students will react to any price increase and this is a competitive market.  So the trick for universities is to work out the elasticity of the market – basically, how high can you jack up the price before people start looking for substitutes?

Universities essentially have two markets: “home” and “away”.   You can charge home students a heck of a lot before they will look for substitutes; they have to move away from home to find a substitute and that’s expensive – so the price differential can be quite high before a home market moves very much.   (note also that perceived quality matters – as many students leave Quebec for Ontario as the other way around, despite the substantial tuition gap).  But you can’t get away with that for “away” students in the same manner.  They are already paying substantially more than sticker price, because they are living away from home.  They already have cheaper alternatives.  How much more expensive can you make your product before turning them off?

Obviously, institutions are only going to raise fees in areas where they think demand is inelastic: that is, where a price hike isn’t going to substantially affect enrollment.  That means generally speaking you can expect fee rises to be concentrated in program where demand substantially exceeds supply.  Which means – among other things – that Arts programs aren’t likely to see big jumps.  But to add a bit of a wrinkle: the province has given universities the most flexibility over fees for group of students who are the most price-sensitive and the least flexibility over fees for those who are least price-sensitive.  Which makes for a very weird set of incentives: the pressure to go big will be highest for in-province students, because if they over-shoot on price to the high side they can always lower the price in subsequent years whereas if they price low, they won’t later be able to raise them significantly if they under-shoot.

It’s impossible in advance to say how institutions are going to take advantage of this flexibility.  Presumably strategies will vary depending on the amount of market power (i.e. excess of demand over supply) that each institution thinks it has in each of its programs:   But one lesson they should heed from the recent experience of almost-deregulation in Australia is this: make decisions quickly.  The longer uncertainty persists about what the prices will be, the longer opponents will have to raise support by suggesting the prices will be ridiculously high (King’s University Student Union was first off the mark on this one – see here – and they added some utterly ludicrous “statistics” on debt to bolster their case).  So while it goes against the grain to announce 2016 prices before Christmas, smart institutions will at the very least set out some principles that will counter the more hysterical propaganda as soon as possible.  Preferably before summer.

February 27

Clearer Thinking About Student Unions

Student associations have difficulty being effective, what with leadership turnovers over every year or so, and corporate memories that rarely extend beyond 36 months.  But every once in awhile, either because of some astute hires, or a lucky co-incidence of good leaders being elected at the same time, a student group gets on a hot streak.  StudentsNS, which represents the majority of associations in Nova Scotia, is in that zone right now.

The latest evidence: their recent review of governance at student unions.  Quite simply, it’s incredibly refreshing to have representative associations think aloud – thoughtfully, I might add – about their own deficiencies in terms of effectiveness and democratic procedures.  For that alone, StudentsNS deserves high praise and widespread emulation.

One of the key issues the paper deals with is elections.  Student associations have enough problems with legitimacy, stemming from low participation in student elections; but they often complicate this problem by making an absolute farce of how they conduct these elections.  At many associations, election rules are from the pre-internet era, and are fixated on trying to create level playing fields by means that, by any modern standard, violate freedom of speech (not to mention common sense).  Chief Electoral Officers are given enormous powers to set the terms of the game – and with that power comes the ability to potentially game the election if they so choose, something they are frequently accused of doing.  The StudentsNS paper gives some very good suggestions in that respect.

It also gives some very good general advice about the relationship between student unions and universities.  Rightly, it says this attitude needs to be collaborative rather than adversarial: both have an interest in seeing students complete their studies with the tools (academic and otherwise) they need to succeed in their subsequent careers, and both have a role to play in helping students deal with social and academic barriers to integrating into an institution.  They can do a lot more together to affect and improve campus culture than they can separately.  That’s not to say students shouldn’t hold institutions to account: particularly when it comes to keeping universities focussed on their teaching mission.  But the basic tenor of the relationship needs to be one of partnership.

Where the report goes slightly awry is in its recommendations on governance.  The paper conceptualizes student unions as dispensers of member services, and student union councils as needlessly focusing on organizational minutiae instead of more narrowly on governance.  Of the latter there is little doubt.  But the paper’s solution is effectively to get rid of most of the campus-wide elected positions (for instance, Presidents and Vice-Presidents) and just get students to elect a governing board, which can then elect a president who in turn manages a largely professionalized staff.

This strikes me as an unnecessarily bloodless definition of a student association.  Granted, there is real ambiguity about their true role: they aren’t “unions”, though they do provide political representation, and they aren’t “governments”, though they do manage services for members.  This paper tries to do away with this tension by redefining political representation as simply another service to members, one more thing to hand over to unelected staff whose work is overseen by a President and governed by a council.

I don’t buy this, and I kind of doubt students will either.  Representation is a matter of politics, not just “governance”.  Students want and need a forum to express how they feel about major issues with respect to how universities are governed, and how provinces pay for universities and colleges.   The main way they do that is by voting for specific representatives who run on specific platforms.  Under this plan, representation would be handled by someone who is hired (perhaps annually, perhaps longer) by a President to execute the (possibly quite muddled) compromise views of a governing council elected on widely differing platforms.  This is both more complex and (probably) less effective than what exists now, and I suspect would lead to a decline in student engagement with their student unions rather than an increase.

But that’s quibbling on my part.  The report is basically a good one, and student associations across the country should ponder its recommendations.  The more important question for the country as a whole is: how can we develop more student associations as thoughtful as StudentsNS?

April 25

Nova Scotia Ditches a Bad Subsidy

About a decade ago, a really bad policy idea started making its way across the country’s “have-not” provinces.  I can’t remember if it started in Saskatchewan or New Brunswick, but within a couple of years it had spread to Manitoba and Nova Scotia, as well.  The details (and generosity) of this policy varied somewhat, but the gist of it was this: “let’s pay our graduates not to leave the province by refunding a portion of their tuition, via tax reductions, once they graduate”.  Sometimes this was dressed up as a “talent attraction policy”, in the sense that it would benefit people coming in from outside the province; in the main, however, it was understood that this money was mainly about keeping “our” kids at home.

Now this was a dumb idea from almost any policy perspective you can imagine, but the two most obvious ones are:

1)      Effectiveness.  Most youth, even in the most economically depressed provinces, tend to stay where they are: in the provinces where these programs were introduced, the “stay” rate ranged from about 75-85%.  So even if you bring the stay-rate up by 10 percentage points, that still means that for every student you successfully keep, eight others will get to keep cash for doing exactly what they were going to do anyway.

2)      Horizontal equity.  If you have a couple of tens of millions in cash that you want to devote to youth – and lord knows there isn’t much of that around – why in the name of all that’s holy would you hand that money over to the group of youth who are the most employable, and have the best prospects?  Especially if you’re not actually changing their behaviour, all this does is reduce the cost of education and make it easier for tomorrow’s upper-middle class to start accumulating assets.

Anyways, though it wasn’t much noticed outside the province, Nova Scotia dropped the tax rebate, largely because it was ineffective – young people continued to leave the province.  While it drained a lot of money, it simply wasn’t big enough to change many people’s minds about leaving.  And this makes sense: if the reason someone moves from Halifax to Toronto is a $10K/year difference in pay, a $2k tax rebate isn’t going to change their mind.

Of course, it would have been a lot better if the Nova Scotia Government had actually put that money back into some other youth-serving purpose – the community college, say, or student assistance (a category in which Nova Scotia remains among the most miserly in the country).  But with the province hemorrhaging money, it’s not exactly a surprise that this money is going straight to deficit-reduction, no matter how unfortunate that might be.

Interesting trend, though: first Quebec and now Nova Scotia have started dialling back on tax credits – with no apparent backlash.  Hopefully, this is the start of a trend that allows us to restore some sanity to the way we subsidise higher education.

January 15

The Listening Tour

There’s a little management technique gaining some traction called the “Listening Tour”.  In the US, over the past eighteen months, new Presidents at Carnegie Mellon and James Madison have used this to inaugurate their terms.  At Princeton, new President (and erstwhile Provost) Chris Eisgruber decided to embark on an entire “Year of Listening”, though why he needs a whole year when he’s been provost for the past nine is unclear.  Here at home, the pioneer of this is new Dalhousie President Richard Florizone, who began his term with “100 Days of Listening”.

It’s easy enough to see why listening tours are all the rage these days.  They combine a need in collegial organizations for Presidents to at least be seen to be inclusive in determining directions, with a certain management philosophy about the need for new leaders to size up their organizations’ strengths and weaknesses quickly in order to make big strategic decisions.  Michael Watkins’ book, The First 90 Daysis the most prominent of these; in Dal’s case they seem to have thrown in an extra 10 days to come up with something more Rooseveltian.

I haven’t paid a great deal of attention to the outcomes of the American listening tours, but the Dal one is interesting because Florizone has – unusually – gone and penned quite a lengthy document about his experience, which you can find here.

Now, listening tours at universities are all going to sound pretty similar: everyone wants to be more prestigious, be good at research and teaching (no choosing!), be more collegial, yadda yadda, all of which Florizone duly conveys.  On the basis of his listening, he makes some useful observations and commitments to improve Dal’s less-than-stellar reputation within the Halifax community, and its inclusiveness of the province’s African and Mik’Maq communities. (He is also – I think – a little too credulous about Dal’s research strength, but leave that aside for now.)

But Florizone also manages to slip some interesting data into his document – stuff he hasn’t so much heard as discovered via some intensive work with his institutional research shop.   Those are the most interesting bits of the document because they more directly reflect his thoughts: his observation that Dal has more programs per undergraduate student than any other U15 school, that its retention rates aren’t very good, that the pension plan’s still a bit of a mess, and that weak government financing and the demands of an aging infrastructure mean cost reductions are clearly going to be the order of the day.  Again, nothing shocking there, but  Florizone has done a nice job of folding some unpleasant realities into a “report on consultations”, in order to put them on the institution’s agenda.

Bernard Shapiro once said that University Presidents could either come in as Gorbachev or Deng.  The first type told everyone that everything had to change, which tended to raise opposition and nothing would get done.  The second type told everyone everything was going to be the same, but then managed to change everything anyway.  By the looks of it, Florizone is going Chinese on this one.

September 25

Campaign Platforms on Higher Education – Halifax Edition

It’s election time out on the east coast, and with polling day (October 8th) fast approaching, it’s time to see what the various parties have on offer for post-secondary education.

The ruling NDP is proposing… nothing.  Nothing at all.  Instead of an actual manifesto, they are running on their record (kind of) and making seven “key commitments” for the next term, none of which touch on post-secondary education in anyway.  This is a tactic often used by sitting governments, but it’s still disappointing.  It’s basically a way of saying “trust us”.  In PSE, where the Dexter government’s policy has essentially been, “raise student aid, cut grants to universities, and pray that somehow, beyond all reason, institutions self-implement the O’Neill Report“, it’s not a reassuring method.

(Seriously, why did Dexter ask Tim O’Neill for that report in the first place?  O’Neill never made any bones that he thought the situation going forward was dire, or that significant reform was necessary – why ask him to recommend such difficult measures if, as a government, the NDP lacked the will to implement any of them?)

The Liberal platform contains two proposals, both of which are pretty lightweight.  One is to remove interest on provincial student loans, even in repayment; apparently, government paying people to borrow is a good idea.  The second is to create – and I quote – “graduate scholarships for research and innovation to build research capacity for Nova Scotia”.  Well, of course!  Who knew building research capacity was that simple?

The Conservative platform is probably the most interesting.  For one thing, it suggests requiring institutions to provide prospective students with information about graduate employability.  I have no idea what that might mean in practice, but I suspect this meme will be popping up in many manifestos over the next few years.

More importantly, perhaps, the Tories are offering five-year MOUs with both NSCC and the province’s universities.  In the case of universities, these MOUs are to be based on – pay attention here – “high quality, affordable post-secondary education, institutional fiscal responsibility, commercialization, and population growth”.  In the case of NSCC, it is to be based on, “affordable and accessible post-secondary education, job ready skills training, increased focus on the trades, institutional fiscal responsibility, and population growth”.  Interesting distinctions, no?

Here’s the bottom line.  No party is making any promises of new money to universities or colleges (the Tories are offering MOUs, but not making cash commitments).  The only new money any party is offering is targeted towards students, which is consistent with the recent pattern of “feed the students, starve the schools” that we’ve seen in recent provincial budgets across Canada.

So, no change there, unfortunately.

January 30

Rough Times at ST. FX

I’ve been saying for awhile now that falling government revenue and rising faculty salary expectations have made a really knock-down drag-em-out faculty strike somewhere in Canada – the kind that knocks out an entire semester – almost inevitable.  The one that started Monday at Nova Scotia’s St. Francis Xavier University may not last that long, but boy does it look ugly.

Basically, the dispute appears to be as follows: Management is offering somewhere between a 6 and 7% salary increase over four years, but wants some kind of right to eliminate programs, based on financial exigency.  The union is asking for something in the region of a 10-11% increase over four years, plus benefits enhancements, and wants management to jump off a cliff when it comes to financial exigency.

The union demands aren’t unreasonable in principle (assistant profs at X are paid well below the regional average, though the more senior ones do fine), but Nova Scotia universities are getting hit with both grant cuts and tuition caps these days, and revenue is down as a result.  Personally, I’m amazed the university is even able to offer 6%, and one suspects they can only afford this because they expect to cut faculty positions either by attrition, or through using some type of exigency clause.  This would explain why the union isn’t biting on the exigency clause; it would also suggest that the two sides are significantly further apart than the $3 million figure the university is putting out in the press.

The union seems to be trying to turn this into a fight about governance.  They keeping pointing to “unnecessary” capital projects gone bad, implying that, but for cost overruns, money for salaries would be plentiful (even though they presumably know that capital and operating budgets are separate).  There also seems to be some personal animus towards President Sean Riley, which I suppose is par for the course if you’re a President somewhere for 16 years; still, it’s not going to make a settlement any easier.  As I say, it seems nasty.

Here’s a proposal: given the state of public finance in Nova Scotia, the entire burden of this settlement is going to fall on students: either they’re going to get charged more, or they’ll receive fewer services in order to pay for the final deal.  So, why not let the union make its case directly to students? Why not require the union to be explicit about the necessary fee hikes and service cuts that would be needed in order to pay profs what they want?  Then let the students vote up or down on the whole thing.

Hey, it’s their money.  If they want to trade shorter library hours and higher fees to keep profs happy, let them do so.

December 13

The Presidential Merry-Go-Round

It was noted recently that there are some big presidential vacancies looming, most notably at Toronto, McGill, Victoria, and Dalhousie.  So who’s going to get these plum jobs?

At Dalhousie, of course, we already know the answer: It’s Richard Florizone – formerly the VP Finance and Administration at the University of Saskatchewan, who also had stints at the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank), Bombardier, and the Boston Consulting Group.

This wasn’t Florizone’s first attempt at becoming a university President – why he wasn’t selected to succeed Peter McKinnon at Saskatchewan remains uncertain. One possibility is that the university wanted a change in style (not uncommon after a three-term presidency, no matter how good the President is – and McKinnon was one of the best); many considered Florizone too close to McKinnon, stylistically, to have a chance.  Another possibility is that the faculty felt his academic credentials weren’t strong enough; Florizone has a PhD in nuclear physics from MIT, but he preferred the private sector to the tenure track.  Nothing wrong with that, of course: Florizone’s definitely got all the skills to be an excellent university President.  But in the world of university leadership, his lack of professorial rank is a bit of an oddity.

What about the other three?  At UVic, after 13 years of David Turpin, the university might well favour an outsider (as was the case with Saskatchewan).  It could either pick up a President from a smaller university (Eddy Campbell and Ray Ivany would both be great choices, but my guess is that neither is available), or an up-and-coming Vice-President Academic (Carl Amrhein? Maureen Mancuso?).  Victoria’s one of the country’s more interesting universities, so there should be no shortage of strong candidates.

Toronto tends not to hire from other Canadian universities so an appointment from abroad is a strong possibility – which means it’s very hard to call.  At McGill, there’s going to be a real temptation to try to bring Stephen Toope home from UBC, which would then require filling a vacancy on the west coast.   Personally , I think you’d want to do a sanity check on anyone wanting to move from UBC to Quebec these days, but the hometown pull might be enough to sway Toope.  At the same time, Daniel Woolf is coming to the end of his term at Queen’s, so he might be in-frame, as well. Of course, David Turpin could also be a good choice, assuming he’s not royally sick of the whole administration thing by now (though if Woolf moves, Turpin would have to be top of Queen’s wishlist).

Want to impress people with your prognostication skills?  Leave your guesses for the Vic, McGill and Toronto presidencies in the comments section.

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