A fond farewell

As this is my last blog post before I take my leave, I thought it fitting to recount the many changes at NSCAD over the past couple of years as we collectively addressed our financial management and enrolment challenges. If I had to list in order of importance the accomplishments we have shared the list would look something like this:

1. Virtual elimination of operating deficit – This was made even more significant as our move toward gaining financial stability occurred during a time when provincial grants decreased by 10 per cent and tuition revenue decreased by an almost similar amount.
2. Debt Reduction – We were able to allay concerns over the size of our debt by demonstrating that by simply servicing our debt it reduces by $1 million per year. Simple tables projecting debt reduction for several years forward provided the Province with the evidence we were making progress.
3. Government relations – By demonstrating good stewardship in reducing our annual deficit; by meeting all report requirements (which incidentally were frequent and numerous); and by introducing strong management controls, we were able to gain the confidence of our provincial partners.
4. Media relations – The shift from negative to positive treatment by the media has been most apparent and most beneficial.
5. Internal governance Improvements – Our new board governance structure has resulted in greater operational clarity, focus and efficiency in board operations.
6. Major consultant-led studies – We have successfully completed two major consultant studies: Space and Affiliation. Both studies have great consequence to the future of NSCAD and provided the Board with evidence-based information on which we were able to chart our future with confidence.
7. Strategic Plan – While behind schedule (on track now), the ultimate outcome will prove very beneficial in informing future directions and priorities for NSCAD.
8. Labour relations – We have successfully negotiated collective agreements with all unionized employees without work disruption, and we continue to enjoy good relations.
9. Presidential and Academic Dean searches – We have concluded two national searches for these important positions with great success. The attraction of many fine candidates for these important leadership positions is yet another indication of our improved status within the university community.
10. Academic programs – We have completed external reviews of all academic programs. When processed, the review findings will be very helpful in the consideration of important program refinements.
11. Enhanced program collaboration – We have added or are in the process of adding many new programs in cooperation with Nova Scotia Community College, University of King’s College and other local universities.
12. Student recruitment improvements – With the assistance of specially earmarked donor funds, our registration and admissions personnel have introduced numerous robust strategies to augment our recruitment efforts.
13. Institute of Applied Creativity – IAC, while still experiencing growing challenges, has been successful in securing significant government grants, hosting significant events and forging important partnerships.
14. Groundbreaking capital donation – The recent generous donation from Margaret and David Fountain is significant for two reasons. First, the gift will allow NSCAD to make significant improvements to the Granville Block (now Fountain Campus). This solidifies our earlier decision to declare our intention to hold onto this historic site for the foreseeable future. Second, the donation conveys confidence in NSCAD’s future as Atlantic Canada’s only exclusive art and design University.

All in all, I believe NSCAD has its worst days behind it and can, with renewed and justly warranted confidence chart a future rich with potential and greatness.

Please allow me to close on a note of appreciation and thanks to all in our community – Board of Governors, faculty, staff, students, and alumni for their collective welcome and support to me, an outsider, during my stay. In particular, I wish to acknowledge the support and assistance provided my most immediate administrative team.

It has been a pleasure, frustrating and exhausting at times, but always rewarding.

King's

Here I am with Kelly Toughill, Director of King’s School of Journalism, and Dr. George Cooper, President of the University of King’s College, after signing a Memorandum of Understanding for a new collaboration. Eliot Wright Photo.

Announcement

A great day for NSCAD: Margaret and David Fountain pledge $3 million to NSCAD and our historic downtown campus is named “Fountain Campus” in appreciation. Eliot Wright Photo.

Here's a picture of myself and my wife Valerie with a painting by Professor Alex Livingston. This photo was taken the same day the Board of Governors considered the Affiliation Study and resolved to keep our autonomy.

A picture of myself and my wife Valerie with a painting by Professor Alex Livingston. This was the same day the Board of Governors considered the Affiliation Report and resolved to keep our autonomy. Eliot Wright Photo.

Making strides

As we reflect on the end of another academic year, we have much to be thankful for at NSCAD. Of course, I am aware of the many challenges we have faced, but the true test of our institutional resilience is not the number of challenges but the quality of our response.  In a nutshell, our collective response to our various challenges has, in my estimation, been nothing short of remarkable.

Artist for a Day

Artist for a Day, held May 11th at the Port Campus, was a wonderful event, showing NSCAD as an active community partner. The ceramics studio was just one of many busy spots. (Steve Farmer Photo)

Consider the list:

  • Board governance overhaul;
  • stellar 125 anniversary celebrations and special events;
  • receipt of government funding for the affiliation and space studies (and on our terms);
  • completion of two mandated reports to government – Institutional Outlook Report and a second sustainability report;
  • successful contract negotiations with our two teaching units;
  • harmonization of relations with the Province;
  • five highly successful events – launch of the I AM NSCAD campaign, Starfish Student Art Awards, Artist for a Day, the launch of the 2013 Graduation Catalogue and the Graduation ceremony;
  • increased positive community profile as evidenced by positive media reporting (see list below of stories in the media gathered in a two-week period);
  • launch of a strategic planning process;
  • and perhaps most important, over achievement of deficit reduction goals.
Anna Leonowens Gallery

The launch of the 2013 Graduation Catalogue at the Anna Leonowens Gallery on May 17 was a celebratory event. (Marilyn Smulders Photo)

I continue to believe that our ultimate strength as an institution (program excellence notwithstanding) depends on our ability to demonstrate financial sustainability – and we are well on our way to doing this. The fiscal environment in which we find ourselves, combined with an activist government funding partner makes financial sustainability a primary concern.

By way of future plans, we will need to invest greater effort in building internal consensus among our various stakeholder groups. A major first initiative in this regard is the strategic re-visioning process proposed by our Strategic Planning Committee. The process will be guided by engagement principles which are intended to mobilize participation by all in our school community.

Starfish Awards

Chatting with Teto Elsiddique, one of 10 finalists, at the Starfish Student Art Awards on May 2. (Luke Clarridge Photo)

Looking further, we can expect a busy summer as we receive the reports of our two consultant-led studies, which will trigger important decisions on our institutional future.  We also begin early work on the strategic planning initiative; firming up board governance change recommendations; and finally, initiate a university-wide campaign to meet our student enrolment objectives.

As I conclude, I am reminded that I had every belief that this would be my last blog post as president, but as you are aware, my departure plans have been delayed, so I will save reminisces and reflections for a later time.  In its place, I should like to close with a wish to all for a healthy, restful and safe summer.

Best wishes,

Dan

P.S. Here is only a sample of the media coverage NSCAD, alumni and students received over the past month. Highlights include the nationwide opening of NSCAD grad Jason Buxton’s feature film Blackbird (which has since won an award at Cannes Ecrans Junior), Artist for a Day and Open City, the Starfish Awards and a collaboration between NSCAD’s Design Division and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

 

 

A report on reports

I want to bring you up to date on the status of the two Requests for Proposals (RFPs) which were a component of our Framework for Sustainability (PDF). As you will recall, the Province of Nova Scotia agreed to fund the studies late in November.

The RFPs were posted in early December and attracted eight submissions. Following careful vetting, the firms ATN Consulting Inc. and Educational Consulting Services were selected and both are in the early phases of their work.

To oversee their work, we have established a liaison committee. Representing NSCAD on the committee are: myself, Acting President; Sharon Johnson Legere, VP Finance & Administration; Kenn Honeychurch, VP Academic and Provost; Sarah Trower, President, SUNSCAD; Professor Glen Hougan; Board members Ian Austen and Ross Cantwell. Representing the province on the committee are: Ava Czapalay, Senior Executive Director Higher Education; and Nancy Vanstone, consultant to the Department of Labour and Advanced Education.

Here’s a bit more information on the studies. The Space Utilization Study being conducted by ECS will examine two sets of questions we need answered. First, how much space does NSCAD require given our existing program mix? Do our three campuses adequately serve our space requirements? Secondly, could either of our potential partner universities accommodate new construction on their campuses sufficient to satisfy NSCAD’s needs should affiliation occur and assuming the Granville Campus will no longer be used? I should mention that ECS is very familiar with our type of educational institution, having done most of the spatial studies for art and design universities in Canada.

The second study, A Feasibility Study to Explore an Affiliation Between NSCAD University and Dalhousie University or NSCAD University and Saint Mary’s University, will be done by ATN Consulting Inc., a local firm with solid credentials and familiarity with each of the universities with which we are exploring affiliation potential.

I know that even the mention of the word “affiliation” conjures up negative associations for many. However, I should remind you that we have been obligated by the Province through the Windsor Report (PDF) to be open to exploration of enhanced collaborations with local universities.

In signaling its openness to explore closer relationships, the Board of Governors placed numerous conditions on the type of relationship that could be explored. Specifically, the proposal identifies the strategic option to be explored is: “to fully investigate opportunities for affiliation with Dalhousie University or Saint Mary’s University which does not adversely affect NSCAD’s academic, financial and governance sovereignty.” Furthermore, this mandate is qualified by 18 conditions which must be adhered to in the investigation.

I know there has been much confusion around the terms “collaboration,” “merger,” “amalgamation,” and “affiliation.” These terms mean much different things. The only form of closer association between NSCAD and the other two universities being investigated in this study is affiliation. We believe that this is the only form of institutional realignment which will protect NSCAD’s autonomy and independence.

I invite you to look at the terms of both studies:

Please note that the heart of both proposals begins on page 22. The first 21 pages contain tender specifications.

I addition to the two RFPs, I am making another report mandated by the Province available for your reference. All of Nova Scotia’s universities were expected to prepare this report using a common template of seven overarching questions in which to describe its hopes and aspirations for the future.

The Bilateral Report: Institutional Outlook (PDF) was submitted to the Province on January 31, 2013 and represents the work of senior academic and administrative officers of the university who worked tirelessly to meet the tight deadline.

As always, your comments are invited.

Where we stand

Please receive this message as my best understanding of the current status of the university with its Framework for Sustainability. By way of background, all or most would know that we have been implementing Plan A of our sustainability plan which was submitted to the Province on March 28, 2012. While the implementation of the plan has not been without difficulty and sacrifice, the results have produced predicted and significant reductions in our operating deficit for the current fiscal year. We have been able to half the deficit projected from where we would be, had we done nothing. You will also know that we have been awaiting a decision by the Province to proceed with the implementation of Plan B. This plan is more ambitious and, if implemented, would have allowed the university to achieve almost immediate balanced budgets for the present and foreseeable future.

The principle component of this plan was dependent upon a provincially funded Early Retirement Incentive Plan (ERIP). The plan envisioned phased but manageable reductions in our employee complement by twinning early retirement with a non-replacement of vacated positions. The complement reduction to the plan was to be guided by a commitment to protect program integrity. There were other components in Plan B but this was the principle one.

Now fast forward to January 2013, the Province communicated formally its response to the outstanding requests contained in our sustainability plan. In that letter, it confirmed the following:

  1. Commitment to cover (up to $1.364 million) our 2012-2013 projected operating budget deficit;
  2. By an earlier decision (November 21, 2012), the province agreed to fund the two studies proposed in our sustainability plan—namely, a Space Utilization Study and an Affiliation Feasibility Study. The first study’s aim is to determine the efficiency with which we use our current space and ascertain what our spatial needs would be if we were to leave the Granville Campus. This study would also assess the capability of Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s to accommodate new construction on their respective campuses should we decide to affiliate.

The second study is intended to conduct a thorough, cost/benefit, risk assessment of a potential partnership/affiliation with either Dalhousie University or Saint Mary’s University. Please keep in mind that these studies will not be exploring merger options, a much mentioned fear. Rather, the studies will be conducted in such a manner as to ensure that affiliation options will not adversely affect NSCAD’s academic, financial and governance sovereignty. In other words, 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.

New information conveyed in the letter (dated January 10, 2013) stipulates that NSCAD needs to submit a new three-to-five year sustainability plan by March 15, 2013 that includes the following:

  • a financial plan to eliminate the current unsustainable level of debt servicing costs;
  • a detailed plan for how the university will meet current and future needs for office, classroom and workshop facilities on an sustainable basis;
  • a plan to take full and effective advantage of opportunities provided by one or more universities and identified and elaborated through the upcoming affiliation study and facilities review; and
  • a formal commitment by NSCAD Board of Governors to fully implement these elements of the sustainability plan.

The letter also states that decisions regarding new student fees rest with NSCAD, subject to review by the Province to ensure proper student consultations have occurred. Finally, the letter states that increases in tuition fees above the approved three per cent level will be addressed through the MOU process underway with the Province’s universities.

Notable by its absence is the central plank our 2012 Framework for Sustainability – a measured contraction of our employee footprint to be financed through a provincially funded Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP). It is important to note that the Province has not officially refused to fund this part of our sustainability plan, but its omission suggests that it is highly unlikely that we will be able to proceed with this part of our plan. However, I have been advised informally that while the government is not interested in direct funding (grant) of an ERIP, they have still not ruled out the possibility of introducing a SOFI loan program, which we would be eligible to apply for to support an ERIP. The savings to our budget with such a plan would be less than if we received a grant but would still be considerable. Please note the Province has not made a decision as yet on the reintroduction of a SOFI Plan. Therefore, while our position is subject to change, until instructed otherwise, this part of our 2012 sustainability plan is on hold.

I also wish to inform you that 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. In the same letter, I have asked for further clarification of the conditions they have made for the payment of our 2012-13 operating deficit. As it now stands, the time lines they have set presuppose consultant study results, which are not likely to be available until May.

Essentially, this is my best read of the situation as I understand it. Unfortunately, the situation is still very fluid and subject to change as we receive more clarification from the Province. I will endeavor to keep you informed as I receive clarification. In the meantime, we will continue to “stay the course” with Plan A, which has allowed us to meet budget targets for this year. The executive committee of the board will meet at the end of this week to formalize its response to the aforementioned letter from the Province. As well, we will consult the community as best we can as we develop a debt reduction plan as requested by the Province by March 15, 2013 – a daunting task.

Yours truly,
Dan

P.S. I intend to outline for you details surrounding how NSCAD is currently funded, including the grants we receive from the Province. I know it is part of popular belief at NSCAD that we are under-funded by the Province and all we need to do to remove our deficit is to demand larger grants from the Province. I hope to share with you some facts that will dispel that belief.