Budget priorities & the academic mission at Mount Allison


How is the university changing its spending on administration?

The administration states that twelve per cent of the operating budget of 2013 went to administrative and student services. Twelve per cent of $44.1 million is $5.29 million. The biggest part of this category of expenditure, like most other line items of the university budget, is for salaries and benefits. More than $3.3 million of the operating budget was spent on salaries for administrative personnel earning over $80,000 per year in 2012–2013, and this total has grown by an average of 12.6% per year over the past five years. In contrast, the average annual increase in the faculty/librarian salary scale was 2.9% over the previous five years. The average annual increase in the “academic salaries” category in the administration’s budget (which includes additional items such as the salaries of the Deans and Head Librarian) was 3.8% over the last half dozen years. Thus, over the last five years, spending on administrative salaries has grown significantly faster than spending on faculty salaries.

The information provided by the administrators on the operating budget would suggest that the percentage for “administration” is relatively unchanged over the past five years. However, the information on compensation would suggest that expenditure for compensation for the group of administrators fluctuates considerably from year to year but exhibits an overall trend of rapid growth. We note in passing that the way for these two observations to line up is that other components of expenditure in the “administration” category are shrinking rapidly, and/or some components of “administration” expenditure have been shifted to other categories.

How has the university changed its spending on academics & librarians over the last decade?

How many of Mount Allison’s budgeted instructional positions have been filled by tenure-track faculty? Or does the use of “full-time equivalent” positions now disguise the increased use of limited term and part-time faculty to fill these instructional positions?

The administration claims that “the number of budgeted full-time equivalent positions” has increased by 26 in the last ten years. Has the university hired to replace retiring faculty and librarians? And fourteen faculty members have resigned their positions at Mount Allison to take up a position elsewhere. Have they been replaced? The answer to these questions — about maintaining the faculty complement as student numbers have been increasing — is that the administration’s spending priorities have not developed or renewed the complement of tenure-stream faculty and librarians but instead have begun to further erode the academic mission. The reason is that we have seen a trend towards more “casualized” academic work — meaning when “full-time equivalent” instruction is offered by limited term contract staff. Then, because these staff are paid significantly less than tenure-track faculty, this choice effectively releases funds to be used for other projects chosen by the administrators.

From the information provided by the administration, the number of “budgeted full-time equivalent” faculty positions increased by 12% over the last ten years which matches the increase in student enrollment (from 2235 in 2002–2003 to 2506 in 2012–2013). However, much of this growth is through greater reliance on non-tenured contract academic staff (CAS) who work under more precarious conditions with lower compensation, reduced benefits, and no job security. The administrators claim that the increase in tenure track positions over the ten years up to last year was 6%. If so, the remainder of the growth in “full-time equivalent (FTE) instructors” was through the increased use of CAS instructors whose numbers increased by over 50% in the last ten years.

Year Tenured & Tenure-track (T&TT) Contract academic staff Full-time equiv. academic staff Full-time students Student:T&TT ratio Student:Full-time equiv. ratio % contract academic staff
2002–20031 127 21.9 148.9 2235.0 17.6 15.01 15%
2012–20132 134 33.0 167.0 2505.8 18.7 15.00 20%
Change (2002–2012) 6% 51% 12% 12% 6% 0% 34%
  1. Mt. A. Review of Operations
  2. President’s Budget Deck, 2013-05-09

Thus, the number of budgeted tenure-stream faculty positions has not been increased much over the current administrative term, starting in 2006, and has even declined recently.

Year Tenured & Tenure-track (T&TT) Contract academic staff Full-time equiv. academic staff Full-time students Student:T&TT ratio Student:Full-time equiv. ratio % contract academic staff
2006–20071 131 20.5 151.5 2043.6 15.6 13.5 14%
2012–20131 134 33.0 167.0 2505.8 18.7 15.0 20%
Change (2006–2012) 2% 61% 10% 23% 20% 11% 46%
  1. “At Mount Allison: Faculty: Student Ratios, 2003–2013” Table in Reflections on MTA’s Budget, 2013–2014 Presentation to Faculty Council & Senate May 9, 2013, Campbell, Robert (2013)

There is an important difference between a “budgeted position” and a filled position. Just as “budgeted plumbers” will not have fixed the pipes until they show up on the job, a “budgeted faculty member” may be unable to teach any courses or publish any articles. Counting the number of actual people at Mount Allison, instead of the budgeted positions, reveals a pattern of diminished commitment to tenure-track hiring on the part of the administration: “diminished” because as student numbers have increased, the complement of tenure-track faculty has not been kept pace. Considering only filled positions, that is, counting only the people who are here for teaching and research, in 2005–2006, there were 121 tenure-track faculty and 8 librarian positions. In 2013–2014, there are 123 tenure-track faculty and 7 librarians. But enrolment has risen significantly.

Further, Mount Allison is suffering from a growing retention problem. Of the faculty members hired between 2003 and 2012, nearly 1/5 have left for positions elsewhere, and most of those departures have been in the past three years. This large loss is double the rate experienced in the decade leading up to and including the previous collective agreement (18.4% versus 8.4%), and is largely driven by a high number of very recent losses. Given that only approximately half of currently “open” positions are being filled this year, the accelerating rate of departures by our colleagues signals trouble ahead. In addition to the loss of highly capable members, it means the Employer will have the opportunity to “not fill” an increasing number of positions in the future.

How much of the operating budget allocated to salaries and benefits?

The administration provides figures which show that less than half of the operating budget is directed to maintaining teaching and research power at the university. The administration claims to want to balance finances, facilities, technology, and human resources. It is important to distinguish between interpreting this as an accounting claim, and as a deeper claim about the policy of the university.

The accounting claim is easy to understand. Once the priorities of the university are established, it becomes necessary to allocate funds to the various budgets meant to further these priorities, and prudence dictates that this allocation should be “balanced” — i.e., not borrow future money to pay today’s bills and not spend so little in any one category as to jeopardize the functioning of the university.

However, the accounting decisions must be secondary to the policy decisions. Some activities are more central to the university’s mission than others, and these activities deserve to be prioritized over the less important activities. And over time the priorities of the institution can change. We need a balanced vision of the university’s priorities that is constantly updated to respond to the university’s reality. The crucial point is that a balanced policy framework comes prior to a balanced budget.

However, the university’s budget numbers show that the administration is getting the relationship between policy and accounting backwards. The reason to have facilities or change technology is to make possible what the human resources are trying to accomplish, which is the fulfillment of the university’s mission: primarily undergraduate teaching and research. Balancing a budget from year-to-year by placing arbitrary internal restrictions on surplus funds and, at the same time, failing to authorize replacement positions to maintain the ratio of faculty and library positions to student enrolments is not a policy that will serve the university well in the long term.

The recent balance struck by the administration seems to favour increased capital expenditures (building and renovations) and increased administrative compensation. New or renovated facilities are indeed often nicer and the Mount Allison Faculty Association has no objection to appropriate salaries for upper-level administrators. The administrators of the best primarily undergraduate university in Canada should be well-compensated. This group of 10 individuals (1 President, 4 Vice-presidents, 3 Deans, the Director of the RJCBS, and the Head Librarian) saw their remuneration rise by 6.5% per year over the past five years, on average, although this figure may be skewed by the increase in presidential compensation which increased an average of 9.7% per year over the last five years, having risen to somewhere between $330,000 and $359,999 per year. MAFA would not suggest that the President is overpaid. The President of Mount Allison University is one of the highest-paid university presidents in the Atlantic region and the President should be well-compensated since he is President of an excellent university. Academic staff should be adequately compensated, too, especially since it is their continuing efforts which maintain the excellence of the institution.

MAFA would like to encourage the budgeting and policy-making exercises to occur distinctly, transparently, and with extensive consultation with those affected, including faculty, librarians, and other staff. The composition of the non-faculty salary budget is not under the control of MAFA. MAFA expresses its concern for the other staff at the university who join faculty and librarians in sacrificing their complement and compensation for increased expenditure on administrative functionaries.


What is the current state of the university’s finances?

The administration would like to lower expectations from “bad” to “worse” by referring to its financial challenges in public presentations, and generally omitting any mention of the university’s fiscal stability. Despite their discouraging talk, the university’s well-compensated administrators have successfully met the challenges created by the recent recession.

The university has no debt and almost always budgets such that there is a significant “excess of revenues over expenditures” which can be reallocated by the administrators either to new projects or, if they choose, to existing budget lines. As it happens, the administration has regularly chosen to direct the surpluses of the recent years toward the capital fund.

Importantly, the healthy state of university financing is unlikely to change in the near future. The government of the province of New Brunswick has committed to a stable funding platform for universities for the next two years. For enrolment fluctuations, the administration maintains a reserve fund (of over $1 million) for exactly this kind of contingency. The alterations and renovations budget has been increased from 2% to 4% of the operating budget; this is not the decision of a financially-stressed institution. So it will remain fiscally possible for the administration to choose to allocate funds to existing budget lines — in effect, to adopt different policies for balancing the university’s needs.

MAFA stresses the reality of this choice because the current priorities of the administrators do not appear to include increasing support for the academic mission. One of MAFA’s objectives in this round of negotiations is to ensure that the academic mission is adequately resourced, so that Mount Allison can continue to provide excellent programs.