NSCAD supporters reject province’s funding conditions
The provincial government is leaving NSCAD in an impossible situation, friends of NSCAD say
February 12, 2013, 11:43 AM AST
Last updated November 5, 2013, 5:29 PM AST
Friends of NSCAD, a collective of alumni, students, faculty and the interested public, issued a response Monday to a governmental letter with stipulations they say threaten the university’s future.
Paying off the school’s debt of more than $19 million requires provincial help, the group’s members argue. The group says selling the Granville campus would exacerbate space issues, merging with Saint Mary’s or Dalhousie would compromise independence and raising tuition fees for poor students would decrease enrolment.
The group suggests the province must take some responsibility for the debt, some $9 million of which was accrued by the construction of Port Campus. According to spokesperson Karen Cope it’s a debt the province helped create.
“After encouraging us to relocate some of our facilities to the Port, they are now penalizing us for the debt that move incurred.’ she says.
It’s hard to quantify economic benefits of cultural events such as Nocturne, an annual, NSCAD-spearheaded art-exhibition at night that brings thousands of participants to the downtown core.
“NSCAD’s contributions to private, metro and Port Authority interests are being ignored by the government,” says Cope, “[which include] creating and maintaining vibrant, populated, safe regions in the downtown,” she says. “Surely we can find a way to quantify this vital service to all levels of government and private enterprises, and together sort out how NSCAD might retire its debt.” she says.
The letter from the Department of Labour and Advanced Education offers to cover NSCAD’s 2012-13 operating deficit up to $1.364 million if the university commits to three conditions by March 15.
According to the letter, the school must draft a plan to pay debt interest, be prepared to accept offers of collaboration with other universities and issue a three- to five-year financial plan by the deadline. These conditions, says faculty member Gary Markle, might sink the institution. “The NDP government itself would fall on such a requirement, as would most other governments, businesses and households,” he says.
For a school currently running an annual deficit, increasing interest payments isn’t feasible, they say. Friends of NSCAD conclude debt elimination is the right measure, but not one the school can accomplish by itself.
Max Haiven, an adjunct critical studies professor at NSCAD thinks the province should follow the precedent of British Columbia, which “just allocated $113 million towards a new campus for Emily Carr University, as part of an overall strategy to build the arts and creative sectors of the B.C. economy,”
Haiven says this type of long-term investment is prudent in an emerging knowledge-based economy. He warns that “underfunding“ NSCAD might “ensure that Nova Scotia is increasingly identified, nationally and internationally, with backwardness, a pollution economy and shortsighted ventures.” He adds, “The [province] could, however, take the lead in developing new opportunities for art, craft and design in Nova Scotia.”
Acting president of NSCAD Daniel O’Brien expressed concern in an update from his blog:
“[I have] written to the Province to convey my surprise with the apparent shift of focus from the removal of operating deficits to the elimination of our debt.”
O’Brien writes that the school’s financial sustainability plan has already halved the operational deficit, but the province is so far refusing to fund early retirement packages for NSCAD faculty, whose vacancies would not be replaced.
Two province-funded studies to determine campus space needs and the possibility of affiliation with Saint Mary’s or Dalhousie will not be completed before March 15, but the province is demanding pre-emptive agreement with the studies’ recommendations, O’brien states.
“As it now stands,” he writes. “The time lines they have set presuppose consultant study results, which are not likely to be available until May.”
O’brien corrects the popular belief that the province would force a merger.
“Any affiliation must ensure that NSCAD retains control over its academic programs and regulations, including the appointment and promotion of faculty, control of its finances, and control over its management through an independent Board of Governors.” he writes.
Friends of NSCAD propose alternatives to debt servicing such as the province leading fundraising to retire the debt by matching the contributions of donors.
“ [A campaign of support for NSCAD] could, like B.C., begin to build on the cornerstone that NSCAD represents, rather than tearing it down,” writes the group.