Thursday, July 12, 2007

Financial bullying in Commerce Faculty, or, what becomes of a bad precedent.

Dan Muzyka, Dean of the faculty of Commerce, is in the market for a sugar momma. The only reason he hasn't posted on Craigslist yet is because he thinks he's got a lead. Except this time she's younger than he is, and considerably poorer - the Commerce Undergraduate Society. The affectionately self-dubbed "Dean Dan" has approached the CUS to contribute $150 000 to next years' faculty budget. It all started last year, when UBC had the nasty surprise of finding out it was running a 36 million dollar deficit.

The UBC board of governors has begun a long process to cut its budgets through the SCAPP committee (which just completed their first report, found HERE). Sullen deans and department heads everywhere are being asked to prioritize, efficiency-ify, and strip down their program offerings to their most Trek 2010-friendly activities. The government is stingy, and tuition can only be increased by a measly 2% a year. GPOF funding is no bottomless pit. "Hard decisions" are about to be made. But Commerce? Well, why would commerce tighten its belt when there's the untapped cash cow of student money to be had?

Dean Dan, apparently based on his close relationship with former CUS president Mike Woodward, broached the topic of increased CUS contributions last year. The $150 000 he asked for then is ostensibly to support the operations of the faculty's Business Career Centre (BCC) - one of those "prestige and profile" building programs that the Suader school takes pride in. The CUS already funds the BCC to the tune of $150 000 per year - about 15% of the $1.1 million annual CUS budget, and likewise 15% of the approximately $1 million BCC operating budget. The additional contribution would bring CUS support up to 30% for this academic service. maybe that's fair. Maybe students are willing to do that.

However, problems arise as soon and you get your number cruncher out. The BCC itself, according to its projected budget, is only asking for $60 000; the dean has now backtracked and asked for $100 000. This discrepancy is due to an alleged miscommunication between the two. Moreover, while the dean plans to pay $9000 less for the BCC next year, he has aked the CUS for far more than the balance ($91 000 more), giving the BCC a larger budget by far than previous years. This is in part accounted for because the BCC (bizarrely) budgeted for a 15-month period instead of the normal 12. But, even if you remove the three extra months' worth of costs, the BCC is still being allocated more than ever before as a result of the projected CUS contribution. To be exact, if the CUS contributes $60 000, or $100 000, the inflated amount (above last years' BCC budget) is $22 500, or $53 500, respectively. For all the details, please refer to the report prepared by CUS executives Jia Lei and Conor Topley on the topic HERE

The BCC has been unable to produce any plans for increased programming in the upcoming year. Since the student money now supporting the CUS goes throught the faculty, one might ponder about all the other faculty areas that, faced with the doleful prospect of GPOF cuts to their units (unless they become Goerge Mackie-accredited sustainable global citizens on the double), are parched for accountability-free student subsidization. On might reflect how well-pleased Dean Dan would be to benevolently water them. The truth is, we might well wonder where the extra money will end up: the dean, where approached with bald numbers, did not feel inclined to make his intentions public. More information may be provided at tomorrow's CUS council meeting, where the dean is going to present, but he has alluded to the fact that he doesn't want other faculties getting wind of the whole arrangement.

It may be far to late for that, however. The word on the street is that Dean of Arts Nancy Gallini has already approached the Arts Undergraduate society for some sort of bale-out. I'm not really supposed to know this, you see, so hush. Heaven forbid that we should have transparency at a public institution when there's 36 million dollars to come up with!

Anyway, Dean Dan has communicated to CUS president Conor Topley that if the CUS does not comply with his request (or shall we call it a demand?) two options are open:

a. Reduced services from the BCC.
b. A reduction in the number of undergraduate classes offered.

Considering that "hard decisions" are being made all over the university due to the current budget climate, these two options must and should be on the table anyway. The CUS and BCC in truth, have not a thing to do with it. The dean's request basically amounts to opportunism - the CUS has money, he needs it. There has been no honesty about the actual needs of the BCC's operations. There has been no honesty about where the excess in that budget would go. Increasing the BCC budget on students' dime at a time like this is preposterous. Using the excess in that budget at the dean's discretion, with no accountability, is insanity. While some block-headed CUS councilors have amiably suggested an increase in their tuition and student fees to cover the dean's whims, the rest of us would do well to recall that Sauder students already pay the highest student fees at the university at $266 (this was originally implemented during the 90's tuition freeze to do things like purchase computers and get the BCC started to begin with - check out a Ubyssey article (pg 4) on the topic). They also just approved an additional $500 per year building levy on their future students to finance the mortgage on a shiny new Angus building. Should they also be saddling a greater and greater portion of institutional spending?

This business - both the process and the intent - create an absurd precedent for the rest of the university. How ironic that the commerce faculty can't balance it's books without extorting students.