2015/16 VCC Budget and Educational Plan

It is nearly the end of February and we are awaiting information about the budget process for the 2015/16 fiscal year. Typically by this time in the budget cycle we have been informed about the nature of the deficit, the planning context, and the information about the planning process has been widely circulated. Absent that information, we are looking at the limited information being presented to date, mostly through EDCO, about the upcoming process and what we see is not positive.
As for planning context, for CUPE, the most significant aspect of current planning and budgeting is an epidemic-level lack of organizational continuity. This is disrupting the institution’s knowledge of, and process for, tracking governance processes and decisions, and ability to manage significant strategic issues. This serious gap in know-how has resulted in both a colossal waste of effort and money in replicating previous work (see Strategic Enrolment Management, Enrolment Services Redesign, or Fitness Facilities for example) and has also created opportunities for bad ideas to take root. We want to go on the record on a few of the major issues we see in the upcoming budget and educational planning process.

Current Proposals at VCC

The information note presented to EDCO by the acting VP Academic on February 3, 2015 represents serious changes in management practice that we cannot endorse.
1. FTE Sleight of Hand Under the previous college President Kathy Kinloch and continuing to this day, there has been a serious erosion of accountability and transparency in reporting student FTEs, presenting significant risks to and liabilities for the College.

FTEs are used in the governance process at the College – planning and reporting – for a reason: they are the primary measure of accountability of the College to its major funder, the BC government. The current formula for FTEs has been used for over a decade, however there has always been a formula – in the same way governments calculate an employment rate, or GDP. Sometimes methods change, and sometimes there are limitations to the measure, and we can always do better with our information management – but the whole purpose of it is to monitor performance across time, across programs, across institutions.

When governments decide to re-do the formula for calculating the unemployment rate, most of us get suspicious: why are they trying to fiddle the numbers? What benefit will they get? What are they trying to hide? Who are they trying to frustrate?

We ask the same questions about this strange diversion to headcounts in the academic governance of the institution, proposed to EDCO in the memo of February 3rd.

The memo starts by highlighting some of the operational complexities of the FTE formula, and by framing past practice as “difficult”, attempts to present this new idea as a solution. It is as if the President were to decide that VCC will be using Imperial rather than metric, because some people never really learned to weigh in kilos!

If accepted by EDCO, this change would result in even more overall reduction of transparency and accountability of management decisions – this is not the direction we want to take.

There are important benefits of EDCO, faculty, and the broader community having FTE information. These benefits include having a line-of-sight between educational activity at the program level and management reports to government, as well as to the budget. The better versed the college community is of our core accountabilities; the more we all are able to facilitate their achievement.

It also keeps the management honest and transparent by having to show their accountability reporting work to peers and informed audiences, and not just in-camera at the Board of Governors. So if, for example, there are FTE claims at EDCO that are inconsistent with claims made to the Board of Governors or reported to government, those “inconsistencies” at least can be addressed through the public record. CUPE has raised this as a serious concern as this has been a real problem at the college in the past few years.

There is truly no excuse for the claim “people don’t understand FTEs”. In our most sympathetic moments, we can understand that with 100% turnover in administration during the last four years that there are many inexperienced administrators. However, the method is easily explained, publicly available on the Internet, and is used throughout the entire BC post-secondary system.

The proposed new cloak of secrecy is both manipulative and insulting.

2. Serious and Risky Changes to Academic Governance

This February 3rd memo also takes a strong position on EDCO jurisdiction that we must strongly disagree with: the acting VP Academic says that EDCO is not entitled to provide advice to the Board on seat reallocation on a yearly basis. We say otherwise.

a) Legal basis for EDCO advice to the VCC Board of Governors.

As much as it may pain administration, it isn’t the administration that gets to make educational decisions at the College. The College and Institute Act spells out roles, responsibilities, and powers within colleges, including academic governance. Decision-making authority is clear in law, and has been tested in several lawsuits. Advice is required for these actions (amongst others): on setting educational goals, objectives, strategies and priorities of the institution; proposals about implementation of courses or programs leading to certificates, diplomas or degrees, including the length of or hours for courses or programs; cancellation of programs or courses offered by the institution or changes in the length of or hours for courses or programs offered by the institution; and setting of the academic schedule.*

* Read the Act here.

Just because there is no one left at the administration that personally remembers VCC’s own case on this point, there is no excuse for not knowing the law. In April 2002, the VCC Board and administration took an administrative position that changes to the “academic schedule” did not need educational advice from EDCO as this was an “administrative operational decision”. The decision against the College in Vancouver Community College Faculty Association v. Vancouver Community College, 2005 BCSC 119 [“VCC”] was embarrassing and expensive. The big takeaways from that judgement were the following:

  1. The Board will be found to be acting improperly if it attempts to circumvent the legislation by trying to remove any input of the Education Council given its clear advisory mandate in law.
  2. The Board will be found to be improperly transferring statutory power given to the Education Council if it delegates decisions in this area to the Vice President of Education or his or her delegate.
  3. The Board cannot avoid consultation with the Education Council by characterizing educational changes as administrative operational decisions made by the institution.
  4. All educational decision are to be made by the Board, after consultation with the Education Council.*

*Read the judgement here.

b. Past practice on the Academic Schedule.

Legislation and past practice inform how and in what format our governance bodies seek advice, provide advice, and make decisions on educational activity at the College.

The new “academic schedule” approach to setting dates for the academic calendar, endorsed at Education Council in February, meets legislative requirements and makes sense to us. In this shift, however, there is an intriguing change: management is no longer being required to “show its work” on the College’s planned educational activity…..

For all the talk and process, the “new” educational plan doesn’t seem to be that new except that it pulls back from the level of transparency and consultation with Education Council that has been the historical practice at VCC – and by historical we mean, since the creation of Education Council at the College. It does seem peculiar to us that the faculty in particular do not seem to be responsive to this change given that it is a reduction in disclosure to them and ability to provide input into educational decisions.

As the acting VP Academic makes plain in her memo, the “enrolment plan” in the past was connected to the budget process and did provide a proposed distribution of student FTE by school and by program.

What is not clearly being communicated in the flurry of policy activity and “reformatting” being presented to EDCO for approval is the orchestration of a significant legal change. That past practice of presenting those FTEs to EDCO was VCC’s adopted approach to asking for advice from EDCO on the “setting of the academic schedule” and for “setting educational goals, objectives, strategies and priorities”, as required under the Act. Without full and frank disclosure of the legal implications to EDCO members of these various changes, management is attempting to strategically reduce EDCO’s legal purview from providing advice on the whole training plan to providing advice solely on the dates of the academic calendar – and with EDCO’s consent!

3. No more Comprehensive Review?

We note with surprise that this has come to a sudden and secretive stop. We have been on the record with the college community in supporting comprehensive review, and have invested heavily in professional development of several of our members to fully participate in review processes. We believe in data-driven decision-making and rational approaches to program and service review. We also believe in transparency and accountability.

Let’s review what has happened on this file.

A brief history of Comprehensive College Review at VCC – 2013/14/15

Date Administrative Lead What? Message Commentary
May 7, 2013 Sal Ferreras Operations
Council Meeting
Policies coming to EDCO in May‐June 2013: New
Program Development and Change.
Never arrived?
March 5, 2014 Interim
Budget Town Hall Balanced budget. No panic –
250K allocated for
some program
review in 14/15
June 10, 2014 John Woudzia
on behalf of
Doug Callbeck
Prioritization update
on EDCO Agenda
Informal discussions have taken place to look at
program mix, the Enrolment Plan and diversification of
programs. Planning underway, do the work in the fall.
Framework will come to EDCO.
June 16, 2014 John Woudzia D2 Meeting Agenda 15 minutes allocated for Comprehensive College Review. Not a lot of time?
June 18, 2014 Interim
President Irene Young
College Review exercise announced via all-VCC email
This is not just a ‘cost-saving’ exercise. We see this as
an opportunity to engage in a meaningful process for
making practical, long-term decisions to revitalize and
improve our program offerings. Roadmap for change to
be identified by December 31, 2014.
June 19, 2014 Chair: John Woudzia New
College Review
Steering Committee
Agenda and project charter developed, consultant hired. Quick response.
CUPE objected to
consultant fees.
June 20, 2014 John Woudzia EDCO
In package:
Information Note
dated June 19,
Verbal updates: 5 minutes on Enrolment Plan and 5
minutes on Comprehensive College Review.
The work of the review will commence during the June
and most likely conclude end of November.
Formal decisions regarding the reallocation of
resources would follow the appropriate routes for
seeking advice and/or approvals from EDCO and the
Board during the months of October and November,
prior to any final decisions.
Ambitious timetable.
Oct 14, 2014 John Woudzia EDCO .5 FTE reduction to Counselling and Disability Services
on agenda for verbal report for information only (5
minutes). Peter Nunoda said “it has been determined”
that this discussion not within the authority of EDCO as
it is a staffing and funding question. It will remain in
administration and will not be addressed. There was
discussion regarding the interpretation of the College &
Institutes Act and EDCO’s role in educational quality,
as well as the Board’s requirement to seek EDCO’s
advice. Peter reiterated that this is not a programming
issue, which is EDCO’s purview, rather a staffing and
budgetary issue, which the Board would not seek
EDCO’s advice on.
Not a popular
agenda item nor
response at the
Nov 12, 2014 EDCO Comprehensive College Review Update
Core Review Update.
Nothing of
Dec 9, 2014 Judith McGillivray EDCO Comprehensive College Review Update
Core Review Update.
Nothing of
Jan 13, 2015 Judith McGillivray EDCO Comprehensive College Review is not going forward
as “originally proposed”. “It will be dealt with in a
variety of ways that achieve the same objective”.
What objective?
What ways?

4. Questionable New Programs

We are whole-heartedly in favour of growing the College, its educational offerings, and its revenue. We believe in VCC’s mission and mandate. However, there are a few items in the plan that we think deserve serious questioning. Maybe they are good ideas, maybe not…

a) A good example – the planned Associate of Arts Degree program

Apart from questions of academic governance approval (new associate degrees require rigorous review and public posting on the Post-Secondary Institutions Proposal System prior to implementation), institutional capacity (current guiding principles for the associate degree include breadth of course offerings, balanced with a sufficient depth in specific disciplines to provide a solid foundation for further study as well as three other criteria), and lack of alignment with government priorities (Skills for Jobs Blueprint: Re-engineering Education and Training, @BCJobsPlan or even @bcedplan), this is a dying credential. The Associate Degree has been undergoing system-wide review through BCCAT given dropping student demand in the province; the number of students graduating with an associate degree from a public institution in BC rose significantly from 1992 until 2004 and then declined significantly through 2008*. Douglas College, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Capilano University, Camosun College, and Langara College all had substantial declines in the number of graduates from 2004 to 2008. Overall, the granting of associate degrees by public institutions declined from a high of 1,844 in 2004 to a low of 865 in 2008. In 2010, 937 associate degrees were granted by public institutions. Why the drop? The expansion of arts and sciences in the past decade to the tune of an extra 25,000 seats** meant that system capacity was expanded to satisfy undergraduate demand. However, the BCCAT review also has identified problems with access, autonomy and quality assurance, credential confusion, problems with flexibility and transfer, and problems with career outcomes as all contributing to enrolment decline. Does this sound like a priority for the investment of scarce VCC resources?

* The review.
** Read about the scandal here.

We have similar concerns about the administration’s lack of due diligence on a number of other program

Next Steps

We call upon the Board of Governors to ensure appropriate leadership of the budget and planning process and to address the specific concerns in this report.

We also call upon our members and members of the College community to engage in the available governance processes to make your voices heard on these important issues. VCC matters to us.