STU taking province to court, demanding government transparency in university funding

St. Thomas University is taking the New Brunswick government to court in an attempt to obtain information that could prove the university is underfunded.

Jeffrey Carleton, STU’s associate vice-president communications, submitted a right to information request with the province in February, seeking information on funding provided to the University of New Brunswick, the Université de Moncton and Mount Allison University.

Carleton requested the documents in hopes of proving there is an inequity in STU’s operating grant. Of the four publicly funded universities in N.B., St. Thomas has the lowest operating grant at 89 per cent of the provincial average.

Despite an increasing number of programs offered at STU over the past 30 years, funding has not been adjusted.

Right to information request

On May 17, Carleton received a response from the government regarding his right to information request, but he was dissatisfied with the information he was given.

“The response from the government has been chaotic and it has been uneven,” Carleton said.

The government provided Carleton with documents containing how much funding each university received and what government department it came from, but Carleton said the information was “disorganized.”

“We’ll be going to the [Court of Queen’s Bench] to make sure that we have a full and transparent view of what this government is spending in post-secondary education,” Carleton said.

The Aquinian reached out to Leah Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the Government of New Brunswick, but she declined to comment.

Carleton said the onus is on the government to explain why STU is underfunded.

“It would just be very interesting to hear why the government feels that St. Thomas University students are not worthy of the same level of support as other students in the province,” he said.

Inequity leads to cuts

In January, St. Thomas was the only university in the province that refused to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Government of New Brunswick.

UNB, UdeM and Mount A signed the MOU, agreeing to cap tuition at two per cent for New Brunswick students and accepting an increase to their operating grants.

The Board of Governors advised STU against signing the MOU until the inequity in the university’s operating grant is addressed.

Carleton said the inequity in funding caused the university to make difficult decisions, like cutting the men’s hockey team in 2016 and closing Rigby Hall residence.

“We’ve made decisions that other universities have not had to make,” said Carleton.

In addition to cuts, inequity in funding can lead to tuition hikes, as the university seeks to supplement the loss in funding elsewhere.

On May 25, STU announced it would raise tuition by $132.86 for domestic students and $725.15 for international students. Carleton said the raising of tuition is not connected to the university refraining to sign the MOU.

STU’s end goal

St. Thomas University Students’ Union president Brianna Workman said it’s valid for the university to ask if it’s being underfunded.

“I think, at the end of the day, it’s public money and the public does deserve to know where it’s going and how it’s being spent and how its being allocated between the four public universities in the province,” Workman said.

“STU students are paying more proportionally for their share of their education, because of the inequity in the operating grant.”

Carleton said the university would rather focus on other things, like building on existing programs.

“We always ask ourselves, ‘If we were treated equitably and fairly, what more could we do for students?’” Carleton asked.

“Our end goal is for our students to be treated more fairly and for the university to be treated more fairly.”

The university will present its case at the Court of Queen’s Bench on Aug. 27 at 9:30 a.m.

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