Kenderdine questions dominate town hall

The university’s decision to suspend operations at the Kenderdine campus at Emma Lake for the next three years dominated discussion at the Nov. 20 open meeting in Convocation Hall.

Faculty members, artists and a large contingent of biology students were on hand to ask questions and express their concerns about the closure, which was announced Nov. 15. Suspending activity at the aging facility, which needs at least $3 million of work to bring it up to health and safety standards, will mean the loss of two positions at the university and operational savings of about $500,000 between now and 2016.

The town hall meeting was one in a series of information sessions designed to provide the campus community with updates on the university's financial situation. Led by Provost and Vice-President Academic Brett Fairbairn and Greg Fowler, acting vice-president of finance and resources, the hour-long meeting included a short presentation and then a question and answer period. Audience members were provided with cards on which to write comments and were also invited to speak from the floor.

To begin, Fowler outlined the current financial situation, which includes a projected gap between revenues and expenses of $44.5 million annually by 2016 if the university takes no action. This represents 8.5 per cent of the institution's operating budget. There is also a $15.5 million deficit projected for this year.

So far, the university has made $2.5 million in permanent budget reductions, he said, and $7 million in one-time cuts but "there is much more to do this year" with the rest of the annual deficit expected to be addressed by the end of the year.

Fairbairn outlined the principles that govern the budget adjustment efforts, principles designed to ensure decisions about budget and the workforce are strategic, comprehensive and sustainable. Fowler described the three projects already underway: workforce planning; gathering $20 million from central and college sources for one-time transition funding; and procurement process improvements.

Fowler acknowledged that workforce planning is causing anxiety but "we must … improve our organizational structures to gain efficiency and reduce duplication," a process that will take place over the next four years. In addition to these projects, Fairbairn said the university is also exploring a process for program prioritization that will align resources with institutional priorities. He added the Board of Governors has provided direction that "no stone go unturned."

In the question period, audience members expressed concern about maintaining the cultural and heritage integrity of the Kenderdine site, including Fairy Island, home of a cabin used by Saskatchewan artist Ernest Lindner. Originally called the Emma Lake Art Camp, the property has been in use since 1935 during summer months for artists' retreats and more recently, for environmental learning opportunities for students.

Both Fairbairn and Fowler reiterated the decision to halt activities at the seasonal campus was difficult but necessary as the university does not have the capital to invest in the property. They assured audience members the university will continue to monitor the site and do necessary maintenance to prevent further deterioration.

Fairbairn pointed out the closure was announced early enough to allow those planning on using the site for programs and courses to find alternatives for next summer.

Fowler and Fairbairn also fielded questions about the university's overall financial situation, including why the $44.5-million deficit was underestimated. Fairbairn explained that the institution's four-year budget planning process anticipated growth of about four per cent annually in its provincial operating grant until last spring. Then, when the grant was increased by only 2.1 per cent, grant increase projections were revised downward to reflect a new reality across the country in postsecondary funding.

"You could argue that we should have seen the writing on the wall," he said, but even a two per cent increase "may in fact be desirable … relative to what's going on in other provinces."

Asked if the university was looking to increase revenue other than raising tuition, Fowler said there is an information item being prepared for the Board of Governors about potential development of parts of the almost 1,000 acres of land the university owns within the city limits. The plan relates to Vision 2057, a long-term development project, but it will have only a minor effect by the end of the four-year budget adjustment period.

Two questions about privatizing services on campus were answered with a firm commitment that such action is not being considered and would contravene labour law and the university's values.

Share this story