All of this is a serious concern for Advanced Education and Skills Minister Gerry Byrne, who said in light of the revelation about inaccuracies in MUN’s financial reporting data, the university needs to embrace greater transparency and management efficiency.
“The university has got a lot of explaining to do,” Byrne said.
“We’re in a situation where we cannot make informed decisions.”
The Telegram contacted Memorial University for a response to Byrne’s comments. A spokesman for the university said they were not willing to provide any comment for this story.
Memorial University is wrestling with funding cuts from the provincial government, and might raise tuition. Byrne has been saying that since the university’s operating costs per student are far higher than the Canadian average, there’s room for MUN to simply cut administrative bloat and run more efficiently.
Earlier this week at a special meeting of the Memorial University Senate, vice-president of administration and finance Kent Decker gave a rundown of the finances. Media were allowed in the room, but were forbidden from recording and taking pictures, and the university would not provide a copy of Decker’s presentation.
In his presentation, Decker suggested MUN’s costs are actually closer in line with the national average than what Byrne has been saying.
Speaking to The Telegram Wednesday, Byrne said that raises some serious concerns.
“Tuesday, at the special meeting of the Senate, the university suggested those numbers are not actually accurate — that Stats Canada got it wrong,” he said.
“What Memorial University finance administration informed us is that they put in certain financial expenditures in categories which they should not have, and they supplied that data to CAUBO — to the Canadian Association of University Business Officers.”
In the case of the medical school, for example, MUN was apparently reporting the full salaries of adjunct professors who spent only a small portion of their time teaching, and spent the rest of it doing clinical work for Eastern Health.
The numbers are apparently screwy with the Marine Institute, too.
“The university now has to go back and revise, basically reformulate all of these calculations from scratch all over again, and basically re-report them all to CAUBO and Stats Canada,” Byrne said.
For months, Byrne has been saying the university needs to do a better job of telling people what its expenses are.
“The university does seem to be sliding away from providing this transparency,” he said.
“There are certain financial reporting structures that are either falling into atrophy or simply being abandoned. Now is the time, I think, for the university to step up and embrace greater accountability, greater transparency.”
Byrne also said that given the confusion about MUN’s expenses, and how its per-student costs line up against other Canadian universities, now is the time for it to embrace the “flatter, leaner management” philosophy that the Liberal government has championed, along with “zero-based budgeting.”
Byrne said that’s now a must.
“I think it’s clear that’s no longer a conversation. That’s an expectation,” he said.
“I think it would be incumbent on the university to embrace zero-based budgeting and looking at their organization from a flatter, leaner philosophy. Because when the university comes before treasury board for the next budget cycle, I would suspect that’s exactly what treasury board will be expecting them to do.”