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OPINION: McNeil government two-faced about chronic underfunding of universities

Our concern is not with Acadia University receiving this additional funding. Obviously, Acadia did need that money, and we are happy they received it. Our concern, rather, is the ad hoc, secretive manner in which the funds were distributed.
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Acadia University has received $24.5 million in emergency funding. (RYAN TAPLIN / Local Xpress / File)

By SCOTT STEWART

News that Acadia University has received $24.5 million in emergency funding has come as a surprise to over 1,400 faculty, contract staff and librarians at eight universities across Nova Scotia represented by the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers.

Our concern is not with Acadia University receiving this additional funding. Obviously, Acadia did need that money, and we are happy they received it. Our concern, rather, is the ad hoc, secretive manner in which the funds were distributed.

The government is missing the point that all Nova Scotia universities have been drastically underfunded for decades. Even with the unreasonable increases forced onto students through tuition, our universities (and our students) are struggling to make ends meet.

By passing Bill 100 in 2015, the Liberal government in Nova Scotia has made it virtually impossible for universities even to request additional funding without risking their autonomy and the academic freedom and collective bargaining rights of their faculty. In other words, behind closed doors, the government seems to be acting one way while publicly acting in a completely different manner.

Take Cape Breton University, where I am employed as a professor, as an example.

Then-president David Wheeler and our board of governors threatened to lay off about 20 per cent of our faculty shortly after Bill 100 was passed, claiming that the university was in a financial crisis. Only the extraordinary work of the faculty association averted that disaster — at least for the time being. But there is no guarantee that this won’t happen at any of the other universities in the province.

University presidents and boards are not blameless in this. Increasingly, they prioritize administrative expenses and infrastructure ahead of teaching and research expenses. This has to stop. But so, too, does the chronic underfunding of our universities.

Scott Stewart is president of the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers.



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