Kacper Niburski

Assistant News Editor

If there would be one word to characterize the current motif in education it would be optimism.

Despite overwhelmingly large class sizes, climbing tuition fees, and the increasing reliance on private partnerships, educators have shown nothing short of bravery and courage in an uncertain, and at times, questionable future.

This was no better captured in president of McMaster University, Patrick Deane’s, letter to the McMaster community: Forward with Integrity. 

Issued on Sept. 21, the document is not so much of a letter as it is a declaration of reassurance, recognition, and hope.

In it, Deane lauded a variety of educational endeavors, including the efforts of the ever-growing role of experiential, interdisciplinary, and community based learning.

But such praise was sordid when compared to the variety of obstacles that still needed to be recognized, and more importantly, delt with.

Among the many, the rarefying of material and commercial funds, the loss of personal interaction in the digital age, and lingering questions of remolding education itself remained a persistent standard not quite met nor realized in between the eloquent paragraphs and sentences.

In light of such concerns, it was determined that in order to create a mutually stimulating environment for the student, the professor, and all the faculty in between, a holistic view was required, and at McMaster, this was simply not occurring on systematic level.

In the months following Deane’s letter, a variety of open forums took place as a means to foster, and perhaps reanimate, the conversation on McMaster’s shortcomings and accolades alike.

On Nov. 24, the second of such discussions was spearheaded by Deane and MSU president, Matthew-Dillon-Leitch, to an audience composed primarily of SRA members and a few concerned students.

Deane began by saying, “Everyone contends that the education experience is meant to be unchanging. Everything is fixed. This is not the case.”

Explaining that much of the education model is based on Harvard University in the early 20th century, and many of the problems are age-old in their inception, Deane added, “Don’t assume everything is tightly circumscribed. It is not. This University is able decide how much this course is worth and how much it isn’t, for example.”

To this, Dillon-Leitch noted that there is an overwhelming temptation to, “redefine what university means. It’s an approach of balance.”

As to where this balance reaches equilibrium, and to what end are things circumscribed, students voiced an array of concerns and fears.

A never-ending rat race, fruitless degrees, students being forgotten in the educational standard, and many more were among those raised.

Both Deane and Dillon-Leitch mirrored each other in their response.

While it is true that there will be constraints in any attempt for change, and it would be foolish to minimize the reality of the constraints, the University can, and is trying, to operate more efficiently. Whether this is to the end of undergraduate studies or graduate research, efforts are being made on all fronts – some successful, others not.

Only through recognition of these successes, and admitting those that have failed, can one move forward with integrity – the entire embodiment of Deane’s September letter.

But it is here in the forward movement where problems arise.

Without a practical and overarching plan, skepticism will amount. Without clear leadership, demoralization will fester. Talk of action can go on until time itself ends, but without action – systematic, broad, and unrelenting action – such talk will be futile at best.

Perhaps this is why the letter itself is not called simply moving forward. Perhaps.

But a second consideration was forgotten at the forum. What if what we seek to fix was built broken?

In between the speeches, rebuttals, and general conversation, few seemed to have recognized that education itself may be the perpetrator of its own problems. Because any University serves as a means of its nation, and thus is hedged in by society’s demands, education appears to require analysis.

Here, Deane admitted, imperfection amounts. “Grading is an imperfect thing and most of the teaching is abhorrent,” he said.

True as this may be, the mantra of optimism still echoed. Deane concluded that, “We have to be optimistic because we have the potential to do something fantastic.”

And yet with only 50 students in attendance at the forum out of a possible 25,000 students, with an ever increasing privatization of education, and an entirely microscopic system built on a macrocosmic national scale, it must be asked whether the next years in education will be more of the same or something else entirely.

If such an answer could be found within the University itself, then the problems would have been fixed by now.

Kacper Niburski

Assistant News Editor

There is no question about it: over the years, the MSU finances have often been in a state of bedlam.

With a tendency of incurring a greater expenditure than revenues could match, the MSU saw a deficit of $925,799 in 2009/2010, followed by a deficit of $149,078 in 2010/2011.

While it is true that such numbers may paint a grim picture, there is a hint of optimism.

As the academic year began with a new Board of Government led by MSU President Matt Dillion-Leitch, new policies were promised. Of those, fiscal management took priority and it was thought that financial benefits may accrue from a general restructuring.

“The deficits demanded action which would steer us back on course and see positive results,” said MSU VP (Finance) Duncan Thompson.

The financial woes were addressed in a variety of ways. The first of change was switching the reviewer of financial statements from Deloitte to KPMG LLP, which is a standard practice for external audits.

Through a thorough analysis of the MSU’s accounting practices, KPMG LLG, who assessed the statements of operations and examined changes in net assets and cash flow, did not report on significant internal control deficiencies.

Such a positive trend can be attributed to the expectations set by the Board of Directors on the MSU.

After the near-$1-million debt in 2010, most of which resulted from the rising cost of administering the dental and health plans without adjusting the student fee to match the increase in claimants, the governing body outlined that it must lower expenses by five per cent, even if sales would not increase.

With such an expectation, the deficit was largely cut. It was projected that a deficit of $402,309 for the 2010/2011 year would be observed, however, a deficit of only $149,078 was reported.

Positive trends such as above are further evident if one looks into the inner workings of the MSU.

“We saw a concerted effort from all business last year to improve their customer service and satisfaction. This led to an increase in volume of costumers,” said Thompson.

“TwelvEighty, under new management, made an effort to improve food quality. Union Market worked extremely hard to get competing suppliers to offer us the best prices. Underground Media + Design managed to pick up some of the largest courses on campus for their courseware project, such as first year Engineering and Pyschology,” he added.

Thompson noted that despite the optimism, work needs to be done. One such area is regarding the MSU’s investment policy.

As it stands currently, there exists no mechanism within the MSU to direct investment policies.

Consequently, there is little to no direction regarding both how an investment is done and the willingness of an organization to contribute to the MSU’s portfolio.

“Our current investment portfolio is very low risk meaning very low yield, mostly in the bond market.”

In KPMG’s audit report, a suggestion was offered. It was observed that by drafting an investment policy regarding the MSU’s level of market risk, the MSU would be able to use funds more efficiently.

As to projections for this year, Thompson hesitated.

“The budget released earlier this year predicts that if all our businesses and services manage to keep exactly as we have predicated, we expect a surplus of $120,163 at the end of the year.”

“However, since the majority of all our business happens during the academic year, it’s still too early to tell exactly,” he added.

Even if it is “too early to tell”, the positive trends suggest that with the appropriate management, the MSU will no long worry over deficit. Instead, the challenge may be of a different nature: mo’ money, mo’ problems.

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