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Updated: UNB officials say Board of Governors' email not connected with arbitration

An email sent to faculty, staff and students of UNB last Friday from the university’s Board of Governors was not connected to impending arbitration between the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers (AUNBT) and UNB administration, said UNB officials on Wednesday.

Arbitration is scheduled for July 6 and 7 and will set out to resolve any outstanding items from the renewal agreement that ended the labour dispute earlier this year.

But according to Natasha Ashfield from the communications and marketing department of UNB, the message was not related to arbitration.

“Last week’s message had nothing to do with arbitration. It was sent as a sign of support from the board of governors to the UNB community for what everyone has been through this past year. It was intended to encourage everyone to work together moving forward,” Ashfield said.

The email, written by chair of the board Kathryn McCain, served to explain some of the actions taken by the university’s administration to combat the financial challenges of the past six years.

“Mrs. McCain prepared this message with the support of other members of the board. It was sent on her behalf from our office because Mrs. McCain, as chair of UNB’s Board of Governors, wanted to share the perspective of the Board with the university community,” said Ashfield.

Ashfield also said Friday’s message was a rare occurrence. But after a term marked with a labour dispute and four non-confidence votes, the email, which suggested a move towards transparency over the recent financial challenges faced by the institution, may come as no surprise.

In the email, McCain said that UNB’s nearly six-million-dollar operating deficit was caused by both New Brunswick’s provincial deficit and declining student enrolment, leading the board to recommend significant cost reductions.

“In New Brunswick, large provincial deficits brought into question the government’s ability to continue to maintain its existing support of its universities. At the same time, a declining student enrolment base and the government’s mandate to cap tuition fees limited UNB’s access to student revenue,” McCain said.

McCain said the response to these challenges was to reduce UNB’s costs as much as possible. While none of the reductions were specifically mentioned, McCain did write that there was a lack of transparency with the university community with regards to them.

“Although there are those who, in hindsight, might have done things differently, cost reduction was the only real way we could be certain that our financial position would improve,” McCain said in her message.

“We do, however, recognize that greater sensitivity and better communication would have been helpful to the university community in understanding the actions taken.”

The email concluded with a promise of more open communication between the board of governors and the university community.

“The only way we can move forward is by continuing to discuss important issues with one another and finding shared perspectives. We are encouraging a greater focus on communication and dialogue at UNB.”

Greg Bailey, UNBSU president, said that the Student Union supports this move towards transparency and will hold the board accountable to this promise.

“Obviously the Student Union is for any move towards a more open and accountable university, so we hope to see more consultation and productive dialogue from all parties in the future,” Bailey said.

“They’ve promised to have more open consultations and reopen the campus budget committees, which haven’t met in a few years, so obviously we’ll be watching to see if they follow through on that.”

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