NS: Student, faculty unions worry about future of NSCAD

Aly Thomson
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The Canadian Press

A new report recommends reducing the school's workforce by 26 employees in this fiscal year through early retirement incentives and severance packages.

[HALIFAX, NS] — A report recommending fewer professors and higher tuition fees at Nova Scotia's fine arts university is generating a backlash from the school's student and faculty unions who say such measures would harm the classroom.

Alvin Comiter, president of the faculty union for the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, said the board of governors report would be a setback for the cash-strapped school if the provincial government were to accept it.

"I think people are going to be very angry when they read it and they're going to feel betrayed," Comiter said in an interview Monday. "We were told over and over and over again in public meetings and in private conversations with representatives from the board that there would be ... no layoffs of employees."

The report, released last Thursday, recommends reducing the school's workforce by 26 employees in this fiscal year through early retirement incentives and severance packages. It says of those 26 positions, the majority should not be replaced, and those that are should be paid at a lower rate.

"It's hard to imagine that they can do that without seriously affecting the quality of our programs," Comiter said.

The school has about 150 full-time employees as well as part-time instructors, student and casual workers.

The board's report addresses recommendations made by Howard Windsor in his December 2011 report on financial troubles at the 125-year-old university.

The financial sustainability plan, now with the province's Advanced Education Department, outlines the school's plan to reduce its multi-million dollar deficit.

The board said the school faces a deficit that could grow to $4.9 million by 2016-17 if no changes were implemented. However, it said its recommendations could see the deficit drop to $1.7 million in that same fiscal year.

Part of the board's plan includes a tuition fee hike to $6,000 from $5,660 to bring the university in line with provincial averages, it said. It also recommends introducing costs including student services, facility and studio fees, which would bring a full-time undergraduate student's tuition for one year up to more than $6,500 — about $900 more than the current rate.

The tuition and fee adjustments would generate $394,000 in additional annual revenue, the report said.

Robyn Touchie, president of the university's student union, said the fee hikes would be exorbitant.

"I don't feel like I can afford to pay that much more of tuition and still be able to live," Touchie said, adding that the new fees are unwarranted because tuition should cover those costs.

Windsor's report sparked an uproar from some students and staff after it recommended the university look at collaborative arrangements with other schools, including a possible merger.

The board has not recommended a merger, but the report said talks have begun for possible "affiliation" with Dalhousie University and Saint Mary's University.

Comiter said he fears that if the provincial government does not accept the board's recommendations, they may force the school into a merger.

The government has not responded to the board of governors report.

A spokeswoman with the Department of Labour and Advanced Education called late Monday and said the report is being reviewed.

"We don't have a date at this point of when we specifically will be acting on it, but it should be sometime in the coming weeks," said Karen Stone, communications director with the department.

The university is the oldest independent school in Canada granting fine arts degrees and has an enrolment of about 1,000 students.

Organizations: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Advanced Education Department, Dalhousie University Saint Mary's University Department of Labour and Advanced Education

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Canada

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