OPENFILE: NSCADs gotta know when to hold ’em

If you like NSCAD, the current situation has been hard to talk about.

It is kind of like having a friend—smart, accomplished, successful, arguably world renowned— with a gambling problem.

A smart friend, who you admire, who is about to lose her house because she is running out of money and time.

NSCAD has $21 million annual budget, a $19 million dollar debt, and has run deficits of $1.4 million last year and $2.4 million this year. The NSCAD Board itself projects a deficit as high as $4 million by 2013.

Tuesday, Howard Windsor’s report for what to do with NSCAD was presented to the public. Windsor is the much-respected former senior bureaucrat somewhat famous in Nova Scotia for being the government-appointed “Board” of the Halifax Regional School Board when it went off the rails. He has had some success with fixing broken institutions.

The province also announced today that it is going to bail out NSCAD, covering this years deficit with conditions—NSCAD must take whatever steps are necessary to balance its budget in the next fiscal year.

Our friend with a gambling problem, maybe she looks for the quick fix, some kind of one-time solution, to bail herself out? Does that really address the root problem?

Can NSCAD stay independent? Some may assume that amalgamation is the only way to save the school, given its dismal financial state.

I don’t think amalgamation would solve the problem at all. The deficit is so deep, the problems so vast, and it’s not like Dalhousie is going to say “we will happily take you on and pay for all your programs.”

Cuts are required to stay independent. This will mean making a series of really difficult and heartbreaking choices and making them very quickly. Faculty and staff will be downsized and whole departments may face the axe. Property that has been long held and dearly loved, or fought for and recently acquired or renovated, may need to be sold.

Like our friend with the gambling problem, when your friend is hurting, you don’t kick her when she’s down. But, really, NSCAD is in deep trouble, and a lot of the trouble is NSCAD’s own damn fault.

A Board of Governors should not be a rubber stamp. They’re there to protect students, alumni, the government and public’s interests. The presidents, past and present, are highly capable people, there to safeguard the future of a historic institution.

Yet, for the last few years, NSCAD has made choices to add programs, buy buildings, build a third campus, grow staff and faculty, without the money to operate them. The institution is on financial life support because those that should have known better, didn’t.

According to the CBC reports, the port campus was built without securing desperately needed federal funding, and its heating costs are $600,000 more annually than the university planned for. These are just two high level examples of bad management and poor oversight.

At some point prior to the wheels coming off, someone needed to say “enough is enough.”

Personally, I’d like to see NSCAD grow. It would take a couple million dollars a year to stabilize the institution, and a couple million more would make it a global centre for art, and that would have huge positive economic implications for the province. NSCAD might be the cheapest project we could invest in that would bring the province global attention.

Right now, the province is in serious financial trouble, and can’t cut funding for the children’s hospital while increasing funding to an institution that has shown itself to be chronically unable to manage itself.

First, NSCAD has to complete Howard’s eight-step program to get over the gambling problem, and prove that the staff and Board can be trusted with more funding and more resources.

We have to believe that overspending and over-confident budget projections are well behind them. But first, we have to save NSCAD.

Then we can talk about the future

  • Elise Boudreau Graham

    I am
    currently a NSCAD student.  I don’t have a gambling problem.  My
    peers don’t have a gambling problem.  My faculty does not have a gambling


    So I ask if
    it is fair for students, faculty, and staff to take the brunt of these cuts?  


    It isn’t my
    “damn fault” that post-secondary education in Nova Scotia and Canada
    is seriously underfunded.  Don’t tell me that the money is not available.  We
    have billions of dollars to spend on prisons and declining crime rates.  We
    have hundreds of thousands to spend on sunset industries like paper mills.  It’s about priorities.


    It isn’t my
    “damn fault” that our university has been seriously mismanaged under
    the governance of David B. Smith.


    That our
    senior administration and Board of Governors has an aversion to transparency. 


    That they
    are not in touch with the demands of students, staff, and faculty.


    That there
    is no appropriate venue for me to adequately participate in the decisions being
    made which affect my education and institution.


    Who has a
    gambling problem?  Not NSCAD.  Students, faculty and staff are NSCAD.


    It’s the senior
    administration and Board of Governors who are gambling with the future of an independent
    NSCAD and the provincial government who are gambling the future of arts and
    culture in Nova Scotia.

    • Those are internal issues of NSCAD as an institution. It doesn’t change the fact that the institution has only so much money to work with and one way or the other has to live within that budget. I hope that as an institution you can overcome these issues and come out stronger on the other side, but realistically, the challenge now for NSCAD, all of its component parts, is to make it work with the money you have.

      • Kaley

        Waye, I think that the point is that management made mistakes, but management isn’t being asked to sacrifice. There is a problem that students, staff, and faculty do not have adequate power to stop bad decisions, but when bad decisions are made, they are expected to pay the cost.

        If NSCAD as a whole is supposed to be wholly responsible, then there should be a redistribution of power at the institution – something the province would have to do because NSCAD’s BOG membership is defined by legislation.

        These aren’t internal issues – they are political ones for the Department of Advanced Education and Labour.

        • 1 – DAEL has already made their political decision.  The Minister announced it the day that Windsor’s report came down.   2- the fact that the decision making structure at NSAD currently does not conform to your political views of how it should be is immaterial, the institution as it stands right now is in deep financial trouble and needs to address those issues.

          I don’t feel you and others are helping the issue by trying to turn it into a political process debate to serve your political and social change agendas.

          • Kaley Kennedy

            But part of the problem is that people who are going to be impacted by the financial decisions, cannot meaningfully participate in them.

            For example, what if students said that they think the university should get rid of the university relations department in order to save academic programs, or downsize the administration – those decision CANNOT be made because the administration (the highest paid staff at the university), have more control over the governance.

            This is a political issue – what gets cut is political, how revenue is raised is also political. The university is a public institution – all it’s decisions are political.

  • David

    Waye I feel like you are not helping because you are trying to divorce the issue from politics (which is impossible – and very much a political position) Doing that sidelines the voices of the students and staff and forecloses the possibility of changing the political narrative through public pressure and direct action. Waye you couldn’t be more wrong on an issue! Budgets are political. And yes the place was mismanaged. That is the point. Cutting or throwing money at NSCAD is a superficial change. What is needed is a structural change – giving more power to students and staff – Maybe instead of telling NSCAD what it should do – CUT-  you should actually listen to the staff and students at NSCAD… 

  • David

    “DAEL has already made their political decision.” – does that mean everyone should pick up their ball and go home? No! That is why you fight, to change political decisions. God knows there are countless decisions of  governments deciding something and people saying “no, that is not right” and agitating for change, for what is right. 

  • Obviously, Dave and Kaley, we are not going to agree.  The key take away of this article is there is no more money…. and NSCAD, all of it, has to deal with the current problems within that context. And in that context, if they get sidetracked into a ideological conversation, and don’t make steps to balance the budget, then April 1 will role around and the government will place the college under trusteeship and start making cuts for them, whether they like it or not.  

    Further, rolling back NSCADs staff complement and course offerings to the level they were at before this unfunded expansion is unfortunate but it is hardly the death of the institution, especially if it is done in a way to accommodate currently enrolled students as much as is possible.  You seem to feel very passionately that these decisions ‘that staff and students were not a part of’ are also so important that they cannot be reversed, which is an interesting contradiction.

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