Of Dollars and Deficits

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Written by Joel Harnest

Over the past 8 weeks, one of the things I can’t seem to get off of my mind has been the budgetary constraints and massively looming deficit that the University is currently facing, as covered by Julia Chapman in the last edition of The Ontarion. Being a student leader on this campus, I’ve had the privilege (or daunting task) of sitting in rooms and meetings with University Administration in very intimate settings, and also attending Senate and Board of Governor Meetings, where the proportion of students in the room to staff, faculty and administration has been quite small. I’m not new to this student leader/being engaged with Administration thing, and I applaud the efforts of Administration to move forward in a very difficult position. However, allow me to be cynical (we are, after all, facing a $36M deficit).

My first area of frustration is directed toward our provincial government, who have continuously cut grants to universities since our parents thought it was a good idea to vote in Mike Harris. Ontario universities are then put in a tricky situation – there are only a few sources of revenue generation, and if one of the biggest sources (government funding) starts getting cut, they have to exploit another source (often, this has come as tuition increases). Despite astronomical cuts, post-secondary education has never been an election issue, at least not one comparable to health care or the economy. Hopefully, an upcoming Provincial Day of Action against rising tuition fees will send some strong signals to our elected government—“accessible post-secondary education matters to us, your constituents. Make it matter to you, too.”

My second area of frustration, then, is directed at the University Administration. While compiling the Operating Budget for 2008-2009, the University of Guelph is assuming a 3.5% to 4% increase of provincial grants. Excuse me? Didn’t we start facing this deficit, because the government has been making extraordinary cuts to post-secondary funding? And, while I’m no bearer of a crystal ball that can see into the future, I’m confident to say that the future doesn’t look much brighter for funding.

My third area of frustration is an extension to this assumed increase in funding. When universities lose one source of funding, they exploit another—tuition. And this year, the provincial tuition framework is up for discussion. These talks will decide how much universities can increase tuition by over the next several years. The cynic in me is saying that, when government grants are not realized, the University will go to the provincial government and say, “Well, since you aren’t giving us funding, you have to give us a more generous tuition framework to work within, so we can fund ourselves.” And then we see tuition raises of 5% or higher.

Given that the government grant goals are “lofty and aggressive” (as said by Miles), I challenge the Board of Governors, Senate and Senior Administration that when these grants do not come through and are not realized, that this University does not exploit another source of revenue generation—that being tuition increases, especially since tuition framework is up for discussion soon. This connection must be realized by advocates of students and an accessible education, or this very fear might be realized.

This opinion piece is a response to an article recently published in The Ontarion. Article can be viewed here: The Ontarion

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  1. Posted by: Rachel on Jul 4, 2008 @ 11:52pm

    I may be ignorant as to how the University budget works, but our tuition seems to keep increasing to cover this growing deficit. At the same time, the University seems to find it necessary to replace all of their perfectly decent furniture with new ones, erect new buildings, and continue to spend money that supposedly doesn’t exist. On top of this, they receive grants from the government (a recent one was 9M dollars) to cover “research” and “building fees”. This money should have been allocated to debt repayment and keeping tuition prices affordable. I think “University” has become such a greedy victim of capitalism that it is now no better than companies like Coke, selling sugar water for inflated prices. Honestly, what are we paying for? To listen to a professor read his notes for an hour, then post them online (therefore making the actual lecture obsolete) and have their grad students return our essays with farmed out 70s without a single correction or comment on the page? I’ve even been reprimanded by professors when seeking help because “I should have looked harder”. I’m paying their salaries! I either want improvement, or my money back.

  2. Posted by: Rachel on Jul 4, 2008 @ 11:53pm

    and, hey joel! you were my highschool president haha. st pauls woot!

  3. Posted by: Evan on Jul 7, 2008 @ 1:14pm

    Hey Rachel,

    The University budget is a strange animal. Yes, the recently completed New Science Complex (NSC) cost over $20M to build, so why didn't some of that money go towards relieveing the deficit?

    The government keeps close tabs on University budgets. UoG's budget has some lines in their budget that are heavily restricted, meaning they can only go to new buildings, or residence improvements, or landscapeing (etc, etc, etc) and not what is really needed right now, like debt recovery. The NSC was funded primarly by government grants and donations from corporate sponsors and individuals who could potentially gain from (or just wish to give back to) this development. Unfortunately, when most wealthy people or companies donate, they want their name on a building and not down in the books for helping out with "debt recovery", which is why the University can afford these new buildings.

    It's a shitty situation we're in, that's for sure.

  4. Posted by: on Jul 7, 2008 @ 9:18pm

    Hey Rachel - good to hear from you :)! Hope you're enjoying your transition from Trenton to Guelph as much as I enjoyed leaving our hometown ;).

    You certainly raise several valid points. It can be extremely confusing to see that the University is in a $36M deficit, when our front page is scattered with stories of receiving provincial funding for X project or Y initiative. The problem is that this funding is tied to certain projects, as Evan has already eluded to, and cannot go toward debt, deferred maintenance or, one of the biggest expenses, salaries and wages. And it's not a simple matter of "moving" money around - without these additional grants, the University would simply build little, but still be experiencing deficits (I would assume).

    However, it is still a scary situation to think that provincial funding is being cut AND the tuition framework is up for discussions this year. What's even scarier is that, in the face of this deficit, the University is forecasting an INCREASE in provincial funding to the operating budget--it's simply setting up the University for failure. And then what? Higher tuition?

  5. Posted by: Kris on Jul 8, 2008 @ 2:55am

    Rachel, I could not have said it better myself, especially the comments regarding our marks and how they're simply pumped out with no actual correction or feedback what so ever by grad students who were in our position less than a year ago in some cases. We're paying, for classes alone, between $2-2,500 per semester; we're paying for these educated professors to teach us, not graduate students who have barely any experience under their belt as actual EDUCATORS.

  6. Posted by: on Jul 9, 2008 @ 12:59am

    Sorry, this is in 3 parts do to the word count limit :S (I went mad)

    I guess my confusion stems from the fact that there are 19,000 students, all providing the institution with massive income each year. If you calculate each student’s individual monetary footprint, there is no possible way that they could cost the university nearly as much as we give just for filling chairs with our bums.

    Some evidence:

    A double room costs $4632 dollars per person, which is almost $10,000 per room. Multiplied by all of the double rooms on campus, we end up with an astronomical figure in exchange for a 10m x 10m cell with limited comforts. If you take that $4632 figure and divide it by eight months, you end up paying $579 a month. For the equivalent in off-campus rent, you could probably find a pretty sweet luxury apartment all inclusive with a private room, television, and hot tub if you’re lucky.

    In regards to the meal plans, it costs $3,875 for the “full plan” for two semesters. We only actually get to consume $2,831 of this in food, as the rest (over $1000) is used to pay off hospitality and building costs. This is especially ridiculous when a single grape costs 7 cents (yes, I bought a grape).

  7. Posted by: Rachel on Jul 9, 2008 @ 12:59am

    Administration fees are also laughable. I have been to the financial aid office on several occasions, to wait in a line while the counter ladies socialize and spin around on their chairs. To apply for most things we have to pay a “nominal” fee of $50+ just so someone can glance at our application and give their stamp of approval (or disapproval?). I even met with the OSAP lady (who spoke with me 1/8th of the amount of time that I had been waiting) about my academic probation who told me not to worry about anything as long as I did well the following semester. Accepting her advice as knowledgeable (as she was the OSAP guidance counselor), I later found that this was NOT the case. Had I not have harassed the financial people this summer to take me off probation I would not have received OSAP this year. What are we paying for?

    Let’s not even get started on textbooks...the book buy back people will take a perfectly good textbook which was purchased for $120, offer you $10 claiming there is jelly stain or something, and resell it for $90.

  8. Posted by: Rachel on Jul 9, 2008 @ 1:00am

    Like in movie theatres, they pay 10 cents for popcorn and reselling it to us for 6 dollars. I really can't see where this deficit is originating. Maybe they aren’t reusing enough? Maybe those who are making more money annually than needed should take a bit of a salary cut (the OSAP lady...)? Maybe Gryph has a severe crack addiction (you know how that saps up money)? Regardless of the means, I do not think that the students should be accountable for the administration’s budgeting impotency. I'm sure there is a great capacity for improvement. I think we are being lied to. I think we should be angry. I think we should fight.

    (And yes, I definitely enjoyed my exodus from Trenton. It’s sweet that you’re representing in our new town :P)

  9. Posted by: Rachel on Jul 10, 2008 @ 11:13pm


    I found this interesting...its an article on how much university presidents are paid.

    "York University president Mamdouh Shoukri's contract promises a $750,000 interest-free housing loan, $50,000 of which will be forgiven for each year on the job. He's also guaranteed a first-year performance bonus of one-quarter his $325,000 salary, a $65,000-per-year supplemental pension, and a paid leave of one year's salary for each five-year term served."

    I'll leave yall alone now lol.

  10. Posted by: JW on Jul 11, 2008 @ 1:02pm

    Demanding that Graduate students not teach any classes or mark anything is a little harsh. There is a longstanding tradition in academic environments of having graduate students lecture while they are doing their research. Some of the best lecturers that I have ever had were graduate students. It is true that profs usually have more teaching experience, however, a large amount of profs have no formal education in pedagogy. Rachel, you claim that because you are paying tuition fees, that all your courses should be taught by profs. Tuition fees still make up a relatively smaller part of the budget than MTCU grants, so really you definitely are not in a situation to be demanding all your courses be taught by profs. Nor would that be an optimal undergrad educational environment.

  11. Posted by: Rachel on Jul 11, 2008 @ 8:04pm

    No, I think TAs are a great resource, I'm not saying they shouldn't be used. I mean, they're students too, thus they are more aware of our challenges and are probably beign equally taken advantage of. I meant that in many cases they work harder than professors, and the professors are still paid way more. I am not saying TAs shouldn't mark anything either. I know that most students appreciate feedback on their work to know what we did wrong and how to improve, which my papers have often been missing. It also assures us that the marker actually graded us appropriately relative to the work that we did, as opposed to farming out a mark from the oblivion. Speaking like a politician, I am not saying that all TAs do this or that this is a behaviour limited to TAs, this has just been mine and my friends' experience. I don't even really care where the school gets they're their money from, we're still paying too much. And without that piece of paper saying we earned a degree we essentially have no future. It's really difficult to imagine having that much debt so soon in life.

  12. Posted by: Michael Brookfield on Jul 26, 2008 @ 12:12pm

    As some of you know I left U of Guelph in Jan 2008 after 38 years because I was tired of the self-serving incompetent bullshit (among other things) of the out-of touch administration at Guelph. My position at Guelph has not been filled because of claims of lack of money, so the students in my former courses are getting taught by various temporary sessionals (and maybe even poor downtroden TA's). Students now pay a hell-of-a-lot in fees and they should be taught by permanent faculty (now in short supply and frequently pissing away their time in futile administration) who, even if they are not that good at teaching, at least can give a consistent, thorough competent course. I am now in a research position in Taiwan and I can assure North Americans that the attitude and support of Universities both here and in mainland China will means that shortly the Chinese will bury you as intellectual superiors. Canada, get used to being a third world country!

  13. Posted by: michael brookfield on Jul 26, 2008 @ 12:24pm

    I can't resist one last comment. North America should stop wasting money by keeping old farts like me alive for a few more miserable years, especially if these old farts have abused their bodies in various ways (as I have). They could then devote the money to more productive things like educating the young. Let the old die naturally!

  14. Posted by: itshardtopost on Jul 27, 2008 @ 12:37pm

    Dr. Brookfield,

    Rest assured that if the Chinese are employing individuals such as yourself to teach, I don't think we have much to worry about here in Canada.

  15. Posted by: on Aug 19, 2008 @ 4:29pm

    Why doesn't the CSA, instead of complain about what everybody else is doing wrong, take a real stand and implement their own student fee freeze. Meaning, they will not increase student fees, bus fees, health and dental fees, club fees, etc....

    Don't think your poop don't stink! You guys do exactly what you critize the university for doing!!

  16. Posted by: Rachel on Aug 21, 2008 @ 11:59pm

    Aww Mr. Brookfield, I loved your course.

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