More than three weeks after it was sent out, the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers (AUNBT) responded on Tuesday to the “special message” sent to students, faculty and staff from the university’s Board of Governors.
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 as well as to promise more open communication between the Board and the university community.
In a detailed response to the email, the AUNBT argues against the severity of UNB’s financial challenges and questions the meaning of the promised transparency.
“Your message anticipates broadened discussion of the issues that matter to all of us in the university community. We fear, however, that the Board does not appreciate the scope of the problems that confront UNB,” wrote Miriam Jones, president of the AUNBT.
Although McCain’s email was sent out on June 27, arbitration between the AUNBT and the university administration was scheduled for July 6 and 7 and Jones said the union didn’t feel a response was appropriate at that time.
“It was just ten days before arbitration. We didn’t think the timing was appropriate for us to respond,” Jones said.
Jones said she doesn’t anticipate any troubles with the ruling on the arbitration discussions, which are set to be released in September, because of her response.
“The committee has already had their discussion. I think the arbitrator is probably pretty clear already in what he’s going to do,” she said.
One key issue addressed in the letter was the risk management funds that, according to McCain, were set aside due to the financial crisis of 2008 and dropping student enrollment.
McCain wrote in her email that “internally restricted funds have been set aside to address the additional challenges facing the institution.”
However, Jones said that not only were the effects of the financial crisis of 2008 exaggerated in McCain’s letter, but the stockpiling of funds only impeded the university’s ability to continue as a quality educational institution.
“We strongly feel that the university is acting as if there’s a huge financial crisis and has been engaging in all sorts of cut-backs, and it’s been unnecessary,” Jones said. “Money comes in, they put it in restricted accounts, call it ‘risk management’ and then whatever’s left becomes the operating budget.”
“Academic programs were, and continue to be, starved and academic/support staff salaries suppressed in order to stockpile cash in restricted funds,” Jones wrote in the union’s response letter.
The letter also raised the issue of the growth in the university’s administration. Since 2004, the top three offices and departments for creating positions were in the vice-president of research, the office of the president and the office of the vice-president in Saint John.
“Despite what the senior administration claims, the numbers are inarguable: during a period of stringent, needless austerity, UNB has nevertheless become increasingly top-heavy,” wrote Jones.
Jones also questioned the intentions of the Board’s promise of transparency.
“[McCain] said the faculty would be invited to comment or have input but that’s not the same as sharing decision making,” she said.
“We hope that the board will realize the depth of the mistrust and the dissatisfaction. I think the Board is going to have to face the fact that a major shift has happened in our institution. People have lost faith in the administration.”
“We would like to allow her the appropriate opportunity to review the letter and respond to those who gave it to her before speaking on her behalf,” Ashfield said.