Had the university been more transparent about their internally restricted funds, the faculty strike of 2014 could have been avoided, according to the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers (AUNBT).
Restricted funds are financial accounts set aside through policy or other decisions for specific purposes. Between 2009 and 2014 UNB’s restricted fund has grown from $42 million to $112 million, something that has not escaped the AUNBT’s notice.
“There has been obscene growth in this fund since 2009 … a $70 million dollar increase over five years or an average of $14 million per year. This annual accumulation is enough money to pay full tuition for 2000 students or hire 125 additional professors,” said Miriam Jones, president of the AUNBT.
Jones said that the lack of transparency surrounding the restricted funds was a contributor to last year’s faculty strike.
“If the [Board of Governors] and senior administration had been transparent regarding the internally restricted fund, we might not have had a strike/lock-out,” said Jones.
The funds have continued to be a cause for concern. According to Jones, since the strike and lockout, 13 of UNB’s 14 faculties have passed non-confidence motions against the university administration.
In response to these concerns, UNB president Eddy Campbell has created an ad hoc committee to reveal to the university community how the funds operate and how they are used.
The committee will investigate the funds of the fiscal years from April 30, 2011 to 2014. In a letter to the UNB community, Campbell said the committee will “make clear which units at UNB have care and control of these funds, and to make clear the purposes for which these funds were restricted.”
“There have been questions from some people in the UNB community about these funds. It is a complex issue to be sure,” said UNB spokesman David Stonehouse.
“Dr. Campbell struck the committee with the expectation that [they] can look at our restricted accounts and issue a report that explains it to the community.”
But this response was a long time coming for the AUNBT.
“[The] AUNBT is pleased that something is finally being done to address this issue. We have repeatedly called for transparency regarding the internally restricted fund. Our first requests were during the summer of 2013, so it’s about time,” Jones said.
But Stonehouse said that there has been transparency in the restricted funds and that the funds are reported every year.
Members of the committee were chosen from around the UNB community and Stonehouse said they were chosen “based on their expertise on the issue and/or their interest in university finances.”
According to Stonehouse, the restricted funds are set aside for “longer-term initiatives” and allow for “prudent financial decision-making.”
“In many cases, internally restricted accounts are controlled by an academic unit, administrative department or even a specific faculty member. Some accounts of a more central nature are controlled by senior administration. It is intended that the committee’s report will explain some of that in more detail,” Stonehouse said.
The committee is expected to have a report completed by March 26. From there it will be shared with the university management, the executive and financial committees of the Board of Governors and the whole Board before it is released to the university community.
The restricted funds are not the only area of UNB’s finances that are currently under scrutiny. Several Right to Information requests have revealed that the University of New Brunswick spent more than $315,000 on extra public relations and security during last year’s labour dispute.
The Daily Gleaner revealed this week that UNB paid $112,400 to National Public Relations from November 2013 through January 2014 “for services ranging from developing public relations strategies during the strike, to media monitoring, producing communications, advertisements and web copy. The firm also received payment for media training, the creation of a temporary labour relations website and ongoing communications consulting.”
The Brunswickan has learned from its own right to information request that $203,416.76 of that total was spent on security from “strike security experts” AFIMAC.
Peter McDougall, associate vice president of human resources and organizational development, said in an emailed statement that hiring such support is not unique to UNB.
“At the time of the strike UNB’s communications team was short staffed due to a maternity leave and the recent departure of the senior manager of communications,” said McDougall.
“There were only three people devoted to communications at that time for both UNB’s Fredericton and Saint John campuses, and there was a very significant increase in the volume of communications activities—including media requests, internal communications, email traffic, social media engagement etc.”
When asked about the numbers for outside security, UNB communications officer Heather Campbell said that internal UNB security personnel “continued to perform their regular duties and did not have the capacity to be present at picket locations to ensure that potential risks were mitigated.”
“We had every confidence that faculty on strike would be professional and respectful, and that is exactly what happened. There was a risk, however, that others coming onto (or passing by) campus might not be familiar with the rights and responsibilities of unionized employees exercising their legal right to strike,” said Campbell.
“While rare, there have been instances in Canada where people were injured at picket sites and we wanted to do all that we could to ensure that our community did not experience this type of incident.”