Another fall semester is in full swing at St. F.X.
A few days before the first day of classes (Sept. 5), during a stroll from his Morrison Hall office to the construction site for the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government, President Kent MacDonald talked about not only the new year, but also the future.
The Pictou County native celebrated an increase in enrolment – both part and full-time – along with new faculty and staff members who were part of a traditional breakfast he hosted earlier that day [Aug. 30].
In the classroom, there will be two new program offerings, including Public Policy and Governance.
“It has been more of a quiet phase, until the building starts to take shape [Brian Mulroney Institute of Government], but students, even then, are registering for that program,” MacDonald said.
As for the Bachelor of Arts and Science in Health, he added, “it is the first time that we have ever had this combined credential.”
“We were projecting, maybe, 25 students, but we will have more than 80 students,” MacDonald said.
As for overall student numbers, he noted, “I still think that we have a bit of capacity there.”
“When I say a bigger capacity, another 100 students, in that range, so that we can fully utilize our residences, fully utilize our other facilities,” MacDonald said.
He noted, operationally, there is a “tipping point.”
“Let’s say that we were to grow another 1,000, we would need another meal hall, another extension to the library – more counselling services – so that, from an operational point of view, we don’t want to do,” MacDonald said.
“We are at a place, where we are feeling pretty comfortable, right now, in terms of maintaining what St. F.X. is, so I feel pretty good about it,” MacDonald said.
‘It’s a challenge’
When asked about St. F.X.’s financial situation, he said “it’s a challenge.”
“Now, to put that in context, if you read James Cameron’s book, you will see that this institution has had financial challenges for a hundred years,” MacDonald added, noting it’s the situation for most universities.
As for the deficit budget the St. F.X. Board of Governors passed earlier this year, he said “none of us are happy with that.”
“We have to find ways to be more efficient,” MacDonald added.
He stressed there have been “really positive discussions” with provincial officials regarding funding for universities to ensure stability.
MacDonald said he has informed faculty and staff that he will be “consumed by telling the St. F.X. story and the economic importance for this region, for us to be successful.”
“And, we will need the government’s support on financing changes, and I feel good – based on the discussions.
“It will take time – everything takes time – and it is not a crisis but, if you were to look out another year, in two years, I am hopeful that we will be in a different place,” he added.
As for tuitions, MacDonald said “I think we are at the top there.”
“Research is a third area, but research is an in-and-out – we get money and they do the research. The money is spent, but – from an operational point of view – it is not so helpful,” he added.
MacDonald said St. F.X. has to continue to explore ancillary operations and non-traditional forms of revenue, noting an example of the projected “multi-million dollar economic injection” expected from hosting the 2018 Canada Special Olympics Summer Games.
“That’s important for us, and we have a team who are really clear that it is their job to look for these opportunities,” he continued.
“To use these assets, when they are underutilized, which is – basically – May through August – and how can we generate revenue.”
He noted “alternative revenues.”
“There is no organization – public or private – in this country that spends more money on services and supports than our federal government,” MacDonald said.
“Even though education is a provincial jurisdiction, we need to do a better job of accessing those resources, which the mega-schools do.”
He noted those institutions have full-time lobbyists in Ottawa.
“I see that as my responsibility – we have discussions with the board of governors on taking on that role more, and helping us from an influence point of view, as opposed to a lobbying point of view,” MacDonald said.
“I think we are up for the challenge and my job is to continue to be absolutely clear and transparent on what the reality is.”
Returning to the original question, MacDonald asked “are they a challenge?”
“They are a challenge. Do I think that we are going to get over the hump – I think we are going to get over the hump,” he said.
MacDonald noted the importance of “maintaining a positive working relationship” with the province.
“We just have to communicate our needs a little more clearly,” he said.
While gesturing over his shoulder to the site of the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government, under construction, MacDonald said “this has to be a highlight.”
He noted, later in September, St. F.X. will host the former prime minister, his wife, Mila, and daughter, Caroline, for a sod turning and luncheon, which is scheduled for Sept. 20.
“This will not look the same – this building is going to be spectacular; the architects have done a beautiful job – they understand buildings for learning,” MacDonald said.
“It is one thing to do an architectural piece and say ‘wow, that’s a beautiful building,’ but it is another thing to design it in a way, internally, that will enhance the overall student experience, both in classroom and not.”
MacDonald noted “a building is just a building.”
“But, a building can help create community and allow people to gather, so that will be a highlight,” he said.