Public Meeting - October 6, 1997
The Campus and Community Affairs Committee held its first public meeting on Monday, October 6, 1997. As previously announced, the focus of this meeting was budgetary issues.
In advance of the meeting, submissions were invited through advertisements in Western News, The Gazette, and the London Free Press (see Annex 1). Letters were sent to over 75 individuals and organizations on campus and in the community, inviting them to make recommendations, proposals or submissions to the Committee on any matter under the purview of the Board. Information was also posted on the Internet at http://www.uwo.ca/univsec/board/pubmtg.html.
The meeting was held in The Great Hall, Somerville House, beginning at 5:00 p.m.. In addition to Committee members, all other members of the Board were invited to attend this public meeting. Committee members present were: Jim Etherington (Chair), Lin Whittaker (Vice-Chair), Ryon Bateman, Paul Davenport, Sue Desmond, Madeline Lennon, Mohan Mathur, Peter Mercer, Greg Moran, Ryan Parks, Bill Peel, John Starkey, Jan Van Fleet, Tom Vine, and Carol Weldon. One other member of the Board, Chris Keith, also attended. In addition to those making presentations to the Committee, there were approximately 20 persons in the audience, including members of the Press.
Three presentations were scheduled for the evening:
University Students' Council, represented by Ms. Lucy Pinheiro: Student Fees and Accessibility
Mr. George Burns, a London businessman and father of a UWO student: Commentary on fees assessed by the University Students' Council and Compulsory Fees charged by the University
Society of Graduate Students, represented by Ms. Kelly Barrowcliffe and Mr. Mark Armstrong: Access and Opportunity: Graduate Studies at The University of Western Ontario
Following each presentation, there was an opportunity for questions from the Committee and informal discussion often involving members of the audience. Once all presentations had been heard, the Committee met in closed session to review what it had heard, to determine whether further information might be warranted, and to decide on the course of action to be taken, if any.
Below is a summary of each of the three presentations and conclusions reached by the Campus and Community Affairs Committee.
STUDENT FEES AND ACCESSIBILITY
Ms. Lucy Pinheiro, Vice-President Finance of the University Students' Council, gave a comprehensive presentation about student fees assessed by the University Students' Council. She covered the history, rationale and value of these fees to undergraduate students and the Western community generally. The purpose of her remarks, she explained, was to provide information to the Committee to counter the view that USC fees are escalating, to explain how the fees are used, and to identify which components are within the control of the USC and which are essentially non-discretionary.
Details of Ms. Pinheiro's remarks are summarized in a briefing handout distributed at the meeting. A copy of the handout is being distributed to all Board members who were not present at the public meeting and CCAC encourages members to review the information contained in the notes.
Questions and responses during discussion following the presentation included the following:
How do USC fees compare with fees charged by undergraduate student organizations at other universities comparable to Western?
They are higher, but not substantially higher when one takes into account chargebacks such as the UCC occupancy fee which student organizations at other universities do not pay. Also, the USC has taken on responsibilities the corporate University used to fund.
How are the fees spent? SEE SUMMARY ON P. 8
35.6% goes to UWO for things that have been negotiated in the past; 35.5% goes to USC projects such as UCC retail operations and UCC renovations. The USC Website shows where every dollar goes.
"Leadership in Learning" talks about accountability. How can the USC respond when challenged about fees charged?
We advertise the budget each year and ask students how we can better serve them. We also publish our financial statements. We want to offer services to meet the needs of students effectively and efficiently.
COMMENTARY: USC FEES AND COMPULSORY FEES CHARGED BY THE UNIVERSITY
The background to the presentation by Mr. George Burns, a local businessman and father of a UWO student, was a letter from him to John Snobelen, Minister of Education and Training, dated September 2, 1997. In his letter, Mr. Burns challenges each component of the USC fee and each Compulsory Ancillary Fee charged by the University, and asks for line-by-line accounting. Mr. Burns elaborated upon these points during his presentation at the CCAC meeting.
Mr. Burns' principal assertion was that fees should be determined by a democratic process involving input from individual students, rather than being assessed "top down", and that in order for individuals to participate in the decision-making process, they need much more information than they now get. Total and complete disclosure is required, to the level of line-by-line accounting.
During his presentation, Mr. Burns objected in principle to many components of the USC fee and several Ancillary Fees, such as USC Day Care, First Nations services, Campus Media, Community Legal Services, and the student health plan. He challenged the practice of charging all students for services they personally do not use, and asserted that student organization fees are being used to finance retail operations on campus to the detriment of businesses in the community.
Discussion of Mr. Burns' submissions brought out the following comments from CCAC members and members of the audience:
Contrary to the perception that USC fees have increased, they have in fact gone down since last year. Each year the USC reassesses the services it provides and the fees charged. Many of the fees that are charged by the student organizations were instituted at the request of students.
Students participate in decision making by electing their representatives to student governing bodies (USC, SOGS, MBAA). They can -- and do -- make their views known to the governing body, either through their representatives or directly.
Recruitment and accessibility are the justification for charging all students fees for services that are not used by all students. These fees help those who need special services, such as single parents who need day care services on a short-term basis.
In reply, Mr. Burns agreed that it is the individual student's responsibility to become involved, but he is concerned that the participation rate is too low. He suggested that if a huge majority of the students don't know what they are being charged for (for lack of information), they are not likely to object. More widely-accessible information is needed. Mr. Burns indicated that supports the principle of user fees rather than universal fees, and students should have a free choice as to which services they use.
Following the public meeting, the CCAC discussed Mr. Burns' requests for more information, and in particular, how best to inform students and their parents about how fees are spent. The Committee's response to Mr. Burns addressed the USC-assessed fees and Compulsory Ancillary Fees separately:
Student Fees assessed by the University Students' Council:
There is a good deal of information now available from the University Students' Council with respect to fees that go to that organization. These include the USC Website, the Westernizer, information sheets (available on request) about the services the USC provides and the rationale for them, and a detailed budget (on request). As indicated during Ms. Pinheiro's presentation earlier in the meeting, the USC is pleased to respond to questions about their fees. Students should make their views about student organization fees known to their representative governing body (e.g., the USC in the case of undergraduate students).
Compulsory Ancillary Fees assessed by the University:
The committee agreed that the University administration should consider producing a brief but comprehensive brochure that could be mailed to students with their fee bills. Although this would not be a line-by-line accounting, the Committee is of the opinion that it could be very informative to students and their parents.
ACCESS AND OPPORTUNITY: GRADUATE STUDIES AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN ONTARIO
The submission by the Society of Graduate Students was presented by Ms. Kelly Barrowcliffe, Vice-President External of the Society of Graduate Students, and Mr. Mark Armstrong, member of the University Senate. The themes of the presentation were "value for money", Income Contingent Loan Repayment Plans, and deregulation of fees.
Value for Money
Ms. Barrowcliffe stated that Western's graduate students believe they are getting an excellent education at Western and do not object to paying fees. The need, however, assurance that they are getting value for money. In particular, although graduate students pay full fees in each of three terms per year. In the summer term, however, not all departments offer courses, faculty supervisors are often away, and library hours have been cut by 40%. It has been suggested that the summer term is a time when graduate students do research rather than attend classes, but not all graduate students are enrolled in research-based programs. Ms. Barrowcliffe reiterated that graduate students are looking for value for their money: either ensure that courses and facilities are available during the summer term or lower summer term fees. Per-course tuition might also be considered. Ms. Barrowcliffe noted that Western is one of a few universities that does not have post-residency fees.
Mr. Armstrong described graduate students' apprehensions about efforts to institute Income Contingent Loan Repayment Program (ICLRP), which he characterized as a "debt instrument". Students entering graduate programs bring with them a debt load from their undergraduate years. He expressed concern that with rising fees, the ICLRP may mean a "debt sentence" for graduate students. He illustrated by describing experience with an ICLRP in New Zealand which has proved disastrous.
Ms. Barrowcliffe asserted that an ICLRP could prove extremely detrimental to graduate students. Graduate tuition fees at Western have increased by 282% over the last 13 years, and it is anticipated that the average debt load of graduate students this year will rise to $25,000. She urged the Board of Governors to control deregulation of fees to avoid imposing a "debt sentence" on graduate students. Graduate students anticipate a 30-50% increase in tuition with the deregulation of fees and that the average debt load will increase from the current average of $25,000 to $40,000. The implications of this, coupled with an ICLRP are the "debt sentence", the inability of alumni to contribute to the University, discrimination against women and minorities, and Western becoming an elitist institution.
Ms. Barrowcliffe stated that society should more equitably share the burden of post-secondary education. She offered some alternatives, citing remarks by former Board Chair Libby Fowler, Leadership in Learning: Western's Strategic Plan, and Looking Forward issued by the senior administration:
The University should strive to realize the potential of partnerships with business, industry and government.
Money that would be required to implement an ICLRP would be better spent in a grant system or in remodelling the current loan system.
Government should implement tax increases for those who can afford it, establish a minimum corporate tax,and tax excess profits on banks and other financial institutions
During discussion of the SOGS presentation, the following points were made:
The administration and Board agree with the presenters that:
a) There should be more government money invested in higher education; of all Canadian provinces, Ontario's funding from government is the lowest.
b) Business can contribute more by way of partnerships and internships.
c) Student debt is a problem and the ICLRP is not a magic bullet.
The citation of an average debt load of $25,000 and projected to rise to $40,000 is not accurate: it is currently $17,000 and an ICLR Program would help those students.
With respect to deregulation of fees, the senior administration has consistently argued that fees should be flexible and vary according to the program. With the exception of professional graduate programs, Western has increased graduate fees less than what was permissible in the last two years.
Deliberations by the Campus and Community Affairs Committee following the meeting resulted in agreement that the senior administration should meet informally, on a regular basis, with representatives of the Society of Graduate Students and the Dean of Graduate Studies to discuss the concerns and suggestions raised by Ms. Barrowcliffe and Mr. Armstrong in their presentation. Members of CCAC do not see the introduction of an ICLRP as integrally linked to deregulation of fees. This warrants further discussion between the administration and the students. For its part, the Board will be conscientious in its consideration of fee increases and mindful of the issues raised by SOGS at this meeting.
The issue of value for money in the summer term is another topic that should be explored in informal meetings between the graduate representatives and the Dean of Graduate Studies.