In a message sent to Kwantlen Polytechnic University faculty members on Feb. 15, KPU President Alan Davis announced that the university had reached “financial capacity” and must take action to avoid a deficit.
As a result, KPU plans on increasing its average class size over the next five years from 22 to 24 students. In addition, a proposed budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year would see the number of courses offered at the university be reduced by 3.5 per cent, with a further 1.5 per cent reduction occurring every year for the next four years. Both initiatives are part of a five-year financial model that the university administration hopes will make KPU more sustainable.
“We are taking a measured approach to addressing our financial situation and the sustainability of KPU,” wrote Davis in the statement. “This five-year plan will require a high level of fiscal prudence, a keen eye on enrolments and class sizes, and tight management of expenses.”
The decision to recalibrate the university’s finances was made during the development of KPU’s VISION 2023 document. The administration identified the need to slow growth in order to prevent a loss in the quality of education that KPU offers, and to better align the institution’s activities with its revenues.
While Davis wrote that he is certain the administration’s actions will make the university a better institution going forward, he acknowledged that the changes will result in some job losses.
“We are committed to working with our unions to minimize the impact of these reductions on our employees,” he wrote. “This is never an easy process, nor is it one we have taken lightly. Deans have begun communicating with those we believe will be affected by these proposed reductions.”
Impact on Students and Faculty
Some programs at KPU have already been experiencing the cutbacks. In November, KPU Provost and Vice President Sal Ferreras met with members of the Academic and Career Advancement (ACA) faculty to discuss his proposal to stop continuous intake and divide ACA into separate faculties. While this proposal was delayed from January 2019 to April, many faculty members remain concerned about the future of their department.
This February, KPU cut off registration for its Farrier program and is currently reviewing the viability of offering Farrier courses in the future. The Health Unit Coordinator program in the Faculty of Health also had its continuous intake suspended for one year, and HUC Coordinator Radhika Kumar responded by penning an open letter to KPU’s Senators. In the letter, Kumar implores the senate to participate in collaborative decision-making that includes members of the faculties being affected by these cuts before committing to the changes.
Also in late February, an email was sent to students applying to KPU’s Music program informing them that the university was suspending all intake into the program indefinitely. That message was not sent to faculty members or students currently enrolled in the program.
Emma Dotto, president of KPU’s Music Students Association, says that the announcement sent the program into “chaos.”
“People are angry. Students are angry. The faculty is angry,” she says. “As president of the music students association, I’ve already gotten emails from students who were planning to apply, and who got news of the suspended intake just one or two days before all of the music programs in the Lower Mainland close their applications. So they’re scrambling now to fulfill their post-secondary plans. It’s just unfair.”
In an email statement to The Runner, KPU Provost Sal Ferreras said that the university’s budget proposals “reflect the unsustainability of the music department’s delivery model in its current format.”
“The Faculty of Arts is planning a thorough review of the Music degree and diploma programs to seek a more sustainable model for this programming,” he wrote. “In the meantime, it was prudent to cancel intakes to allow that review to be conducted.”
Dotto says that the decision to suspend intake shows that KPU is not interested giving Music students or faculty members a chance to change the administration’s mind.
“It’s extremely poor leadership, it’s a very defensive way to go about making change,” she says. “Essentially they’re bleeding us dry until there’s no more program. They’re not even giving us the chance to rebound off of this.”
KPU Student Senator Murdoch de Mooy says he also feels that the university should be more flexible in its approach to reducing course offerings, specifically with the proposed division of the ACA faculty.
“I feel like deciding the date of dissolution before it can be discussed fully, or before the positives can be mentioned, is really saying, ‘We don’t care what your opinion is. We’ve already decided,’” he says.
Like Dotto, de Mooy says he has had students voice their concerns to him about the recent cuts.
“When the ACA stuff first started, there was definitely a spike in people coming to my office and going, ‘I’ve heard bad things are happening. How soon should I get out of KPU?”
The Need for a Reduction
In his role on the university’s senate, de Mooy has been in attendance for some of the recent discussions about KPU’s financial situation. According to him, much of the problem comes from KPU overreaching in the decade since it transitioned from a college to a university.
“I think this is the pushback of trying to expand so much,” he says. “One of the things that’s leading to the situation with the Music program is that these sorts of programs cost more per student than others. My guess is that [the administration] is figuring out which programs are the most cost inefficient for the university and saying, ‘We should not be accepting any more students.’”
Kwantlen College became Kwantlen Polytechnic University in 2008, and de Mooy says that this transition came without a significant increase in funding from the provincial government. Since then, KPU’s growth as an institution has led to greater and greater expenses, while provincial grants have remained largely stagnant. KPU’s other sources of revenue, such as tuition from domestic and international students, have not increased enough in that time to offset the rising costs.
“Our expenses are increasing faster than our anticipated revenues, due mainly to inflation and the ongoing cost pressures of our multi-campus complexity,” wrote Davis in an email statement to The Runner. “If we don’t address this issue now, expenses will exceed revenues. Legislation requires that we be in an annual balanced or surplus financial position, so we must take action to avoid a deficit.”
In his message to faculty, Davis explained that the university’s opportunities to increase revenues are limited. While the administration is actively exploring new revenue streams, it will take at least a few years before they start making a noticeable impact on KPU’s operating budget.
According to a report prepared by KPU VP Finance & Administration John Harding, which was presented to the university’s senate in late November 2018, KPU is currently losing $20.85 per credit taken by domestic, full time equivalent (FTE) students who have been partially funded by the B.C. government to attend post-secondary university. That number skyrockets to $298.48 per credit for domestic FTE students whose education is not partially offset by government funds.
Losing What Makes KPU Unique
De Mooy says he’s glad that the university isn’t officially ending any of the programs that have had their intakes cancelled, and that students currently enrolled in the Music, HUC, and the Farrier programs will be able to finish their educations. However, he is sad to see the administration targeting programs that make KPU a unique institution.
“These programs are the identity of KPU,” he says. “Programs like the Farrier program, the Beekeeping program, the Music programs—these are ‘us.’”
In the announcement to faculty, Davis wrote that the administration will continue to speak to the government about receiving more funding in order to “fulfill our unique mandate as a polytechnic university, and to respond to the needs of our communities.”
“These are difficult but necessary decisions that are being proposed in order to address structural financial issues and allow KPU to balance its budget this year and create financial sustainability for years to come,” wrote Davis to The Runner.
For her part, Dotto says she’s ready to fight for the survival of the Music program. Following a meeting of Music students and faculty on Feb. 28, the Music Students Association created the hashtag #kpumusicmakenoise and is encouraging people to write letters addressed to the university’s President, Vice President and Provost, and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts about their reaction to the cutbacks.
“The only way I see us making a change is by making a loud enough noise that it shakes [the administration],” she says. “The only way we can do that is if we present as a united front. We want to come together as a program and show that the solidarity and the togetherness is what this program is about, is what music is about, and it’s how we’re going to get our voices heard.”