University transparency: An interview with President Bose

Dr. Neil Bose
Image credit: Memorial University (via Flickr)
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The Muse recently had the opportunity to interview President Bose, getting answers on important university affairs; with a focus on transparency in hiring processes, housing and infrastructure concerns, student activism, and the Auditor General’s report.

Presidential search

Dr. Bose has been appointed to the position of president for a two-year term or until the next president is recruited.

While President Bose is not involved in the presidential search process, as it is led by the Board of Regents, he states “As president, one of my commitments is to prioritize leadership searches for roles that are currently occupied on an interim basis.”

Filling interim dean and senior exec positions

With numerous interim dean and senior executive positions vacant, we asked President Bose what progress has been made to fill these roles.

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“The search for the vice-president (Grenfell Campus) recently concluded with Dr. Ian Sutherland as the successful candidate,” says Bose, “The search for the next provost and vice-president (academic) is in progress.”

He adds, “The new Dean of Education, Dr. Pamela Osmond-Johnson, will start Dec 1. Searches for four other deans are currently underway: Social Work, Human Kinetics and Recreation, Business Administration and Graduate Studies. Four other decanal searches are about to start; their search committees are being finalized. These four are Nursing, Science, Music and Medicine.”

Housing concerns for new and returning students

A lack of housing infrastructure and a rising cost of living resulted in many students struggling to find housing at the start of the semester.

When asked how the university is responding to this growing concern, Dr. Bose says, “Memorial is aware that students across the country and internationally (e.g. Australia) are having a hard time finding affordable rentals near their university, and Memorial is no exception.”

“To respond to this challenge, near the start of this semester, the university formed a Housing Issues Management Team to resolve emerging housing needs and engage in long-term planning on this topic,” he explains, “The team consists of staff from ten units at Memorial who intersect with students, and representatives from Marine Institute and Grenfell Campus as well.”

The findings from the Housing Issues Management Team are to be shared with the President’s Executive Council this month. Dr. Bose shared the following examples of how they assist with housing issues:

  • A partnership with local hotels to help situate students until they find rentals.
  • A new graduate wing was established in Paton College to house twenty graduate students.
  • An online form connected people in our community who have a room to rent with students looking for a rental.
  • Graduate students had the option to start their programs online, and move here when they found a place to rent.
  • The Internationalization Office worked with new international students to complete an intake form before the students arrived. This includes a checklist of questions to ensure they have secured a place to stay before arriving.
  • If an international student has followed arrivals protocols, Memorial staff greet them at the airport. At this time, the greeters provide assistance to a student in getting to their accommodation and help them troubleshoot temporary accommodation needs.

Professors asked to house incoming students

At the beginning of the fall semester, Memorial’s faculty and staff were requested to consider renting their available spaces to incoming students. 

Following the request, MUNFA released a statement stating “We see this request as a blatant attempt to download the city’s housing crisis and the cost of living crisis facing students onto the backs of faculty and staff.”

President Bose states that this request was not an emergency measure specific to this semester.

“For St. John’s Campus, the Internationalization Office regularly sends that email to faculty, staff and pensioners. It’s been a practice for some time now, and is seen as a mutually beneficial arrangement. Grenfell Campus did the same this semester. The arrangement provides rental income for those with space available and rental space for students looking for something other than residences or what is available on the rental market.”

Infrastructure concerns

Concerns have been raised over the years by faculty, staff, and students regarding the worsening infrastructure on campus. Ceiling tiles that are crumbling, rats spotted on campus, and questions surrounding the fear of asbestos have persisted.

“Memorial is continually monitoring and addressing infrastructure concerns on its campuses,” states Bose.

He explains that “The following deferred maintenance projects have been approved by the Board of Regents to be funded in 2023-2024: deferred maintenance projects, and there are ongoing major and minor capital projects and a preventative maintenance program as well.”

One project mentioned is “an Energy Performance Contract (EPC) with Honeywell,” which “funds campus infrastructure improvement in 75 buildings across the St. John’s and Grenfell campuses through energy savings. It focuses on energy-efficient solutions designed to upgrade facilities, reduce operating costs, improve indoor air quality and reduce environmental emissions. This contract will see guaranteed cumulative cost avoidance to the university over the 20-year term of almost $53 million. $11.5 million has already been realized and this EPC has reduced greenhouse gases by approximately 1,634 tonnes each year since 2020.”

Rooms shut down in old science building

The start of this semester found students and faculty in the old science building confused as they noticed rooms they had previously occupied are now closed under lock and key.

“Eight to ten classrooms in the old Science building are no longer in use since the bulk of the building’s previous occupants moved to the new Core Science Facility, explains Bose, “This was a matter of operational efficiency and keeping costs down. Because most labs are now taught in the newer building, it was determined that 10 classrooms, specifically those in the least desirable condition, could be terminated as classrooms without impact.”

“Additionally, following completion of testing and swabs by Environmental Health and Safety to ensure labs are safe to use for other purposes, Facilities Management is in the process of decommissioning and cleaning labs no longer in use,” he says.

With concerns raised about asbestos and questions left up in the air, Bose affirms “There is no known cause for concern about asbestos, and hazardous materials were not a factor in the closing of any rooms in the Science building. The university has an asbestos management program to monitor the condition of our asbestos-containing materials as well as avoid disturbing them.”

Exclusion of BA students in recent career fair

Bachelor of Arts students have raised concerns following this year’s career fair stating that the overwhelming desire from employers for Bachelor of Science graduates left them feeling inferior and concerned about their job prospects following convocation.

“While Memorial hosts the Career Fair and welcomes employers to participate, the employers themselves identify which types of employees they will be recruiting,” explains Bose, “That said, Student Life does strive to bring a diverse group of employers to the Career Fair every year. This year, over 50 employers indicated that they were seeking to hire those with a Humanities and Social Sciences degree. With this feedback, we will continue to invite a diversity of employers to future fairs.”

Day of Action

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On November 8th, Memorial students held a Day of Action in response to rising tuition fees.

President Bose commented on the decision made by students to rally together for more affordable education saying, “The university understands and respects its student community advocating for the best interests of students. Finding your voice and values is a vital part of the student experience.”

Transparency and accountability

With a heavy focus on transparency and accountability, we asked the President what progress has been made to ensure that Memorial’s students, staff, and faculty are kept in the loop on important university affairs.

President Bose says, “Firstly, I would say I am always happy to answer student questions through the university’s student newspaper as we’re doing here, so that students never feel out of the loop. Sometimes, people make assumptions rather than ask questions. I invite questions! I would also encourage students to check the Gazette for regular updates on university matters.” 

He cites two examples:

  • Memorial recently announced it is moving away from its use of executive search firms for executive positions. Roles within the Department of Human Resources have been redeployed to support executive searches. Moving forward, Memorial will only use an executive search firm if the search committee for a position requests that approach, and the President’s Executive Council approves it. There are currently no searches proceeding with the use of a search firm.
  • The President’s Executive Council, mentioned above, is a recent change I have instituted to foster improved and more collaborative decision making at the university. Previously, Vice-Presidents advised the president on matters, but with a newly established President’s Executive Council, all vice-presidents are more actively part of the decision-making process. You can read more about these changes in this Gazette article, which also discusses the newly formed Senior Leadership Council. The intention of these two new councils is to improve transparency, collaboration and the flow of information to the university community by involving key leaders in discussions and decision-making processes. 

Response to auditor general’s report

Following the release of the Auditor General’s report, we asked President Bose if the university is taking full accountability for the results of the report and how they will be responding to issues raised.

“The university has accepted the recommendations detailed in the AG Report, says Dr. Bose. “As President, I will continue to work with the board to ensure the recommendations are addressed appropriately and the conditions for success within the Canadian university sector continue to be met.”

“In the name of transparency, I have added a new section to the President’s website on the Auditor General report. Already, it includes recent changes at the university and additional context on the AG Report, as well as a statement in response to the AG Report.”

“Over the last several months, the President’s Executive Council and Board of Regents have been focused on enhancing transparency and improving operations. Since the audit period, there have been significant changes at Memorial, and we are already working to address the concerns that have been raised.”

These changes include:

  • An increased focus on policy development and renewal that will address the instances of overspending highlighted in the report. Since December 2022 four policies have been approved by the Board of Regents. There are currently 13 policies in some stage of the review process with several more coming through the pipeline. 
  • A new travel request approval process has been approved for Memorial’s president and vice-presidents. Travel requests for vice-presidents must be approved by the president and travel requests for the president must be approved by the chair of the Board of Regents.
  • Performance management for executives will be a priority moving forward.  Performance objectives are built into the new president’s contract. Similarly, the current president has implemented a structured review process for all vice-presidents.
  • The Budget Office has implemented a more comprehensive monthly reporting structure for units.
  • Changes in the Department of Financial and Administrative Services will ensure a more robust focus on key financial processes at both the executive and board level.  
  • More detailed financial updates will be provided to the Board of Regents to inform its oversight and decision-making.
  • Work has begun on a new budget model for the institution, with transparency at the core. This will progress over several years and will start with a tuition attribution model to academic units.

What actions will the university be taking to align with concerns raised about admin costs per student being higher than other similar universities?

“‘Administration’ also includes academic support services, including those that support online learning, graduate students and the research mission of the university,” says Bose, explaining that “there are three primary reasons why administrative cost per student looks so different at Memorial.”

These reasons are as follows:

  • Memorial is a comprehensive university with a medical school, which is an unusual structure. Most medical/doctoral universities have large overall student populations that Memorial does not have. There are high costs associated with a medical school coupled with a relatively small enrollment (about 500 students) which can skew cost per student.  
  • The Marine Institute offers diploma and certificate programs, which are excluded from Stats Canada student enrollment numbers, yet the operating expenditures for the Marine Institute are included. This skews the data. 
  • Finally, as the only university in the province, there are costs associated with maintaining a province-wide presence. 

He concludes by stating “At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that the proportion of Memorial’s operating budget that is allocated to administration (11.8%) is similar to that of comparable universities.” 

With a continued emphasis on transparency and accountability, students, staff, and faculty at Memorial University can only hope that the university will follow through and continue to speak with and get input from the campus community about ongoing concerns and solutions being implemented.

Editor’s note: Special thanks to President Bose and the administration for taking the time to speak with The Muse.

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Anasophie Vallée
Anasophie (she/her) is a 3rd-year Communication Studies and French student at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. She is very passionate about advocating for human rights, mental health awareness, and inclusivity both within the arts and in our community as a whole. Anasophie is eager and honoured to be Editor-in-Chief of the Muse. She has written for both the Muse and the Independent and is excited to be a part of such an amazing team. Anasophie is also an avid member of the NL arts community, having danced for years with Kittiwake Dance Theatre. When she is not writing or working, Ana can typically be found reading, cooking, or seeing a local production. If you have a tip or question, reach out to themusechief@gmail.com