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Cathy Conrad speaks into a megaphone at a rally from the Saint Mary's University Faculty Union, calling for new leadership at the school, on April 11, 2024. (Jacob Moore/Acadia Broadcasting)

Saint Mary’s University Faculty Union calls for president and board chair to step down

By Jacob Moore Apr 11, 2024 | 6:10 PM

Members of the Saint Mary’s Faculty Union rallied early Thursday afternoon to call for a change in leadership at the school.

The union says many of the issues facing the university are because of the current president and board chair and their lack of communication.

“We’re in a unique, dismal place right here,” says Cathy Conrad, president of the union.

“If the Board of Governors won’t to talk to us, we’re going to talk to you. We’ll talk to people coming across the street. We’ll talk to anybody and explain the problem here. And we see that the solution is an immediate change in leadership,” she says.

About 50 people attended the rally on the corner of Inglis Street and Tower Road in Halifax at about 1 p.m.

Cathy Conrad, president of the Saint Mary’s University Faculty Union, is pictured at a rally on April 11, 2024. (Jacob Moore/Acadia Broadcasting)

Conrad says the purpose of the rally is to take the issues facing Saint Mary’s University and show them off, symbolically, on the street corner. That way, people can talk to union members and ask questions, she says.

The other part of the rally was to call for a leadership change after

Conrad claims that many of the problems facing the university started when the current president took over.

But she says the union has made those concerns apparent in the last few years by sending letter to the chair of the board and by talking to people in senior management positions.

“Most of those letters and pleas for communication are met with no response,” she says.

It frustrates her because teachers talk, debate and solve problems all the time, and she says they want to be a part of the discussion to solve the school’s problems.

Conrad says there are multiple issues with the president.

Financial mismanagement

The university’s debt has increased by 116 per cent since 2021, largely due to an operating deficit of $9.8 million, according to the university’s 2023 financial report.

Conrad says this seemingly happened out of nowhere. She says the school is running its finances like a corporation. This hurts the school’s reputation and doesn’t necessarily improve student and teacher relationships, which she says hurts the quality of the experience at the school.

Jonathan Mansvelt, a fourth-year psychology honours student at the school, is also a teaching assistant, a member of the CUPE 3912 union.

Mansvelt was receiving a yearly scholarship for academic performance. A few months ahead of when he was supposed to get it, he received an email saying he wouldn’t receive it. Each year that scholarship gave him a $7000 top up, he says.

Only learning that he wouldn’t get the scholarship a few months before the year started wasn’t enough time for him to find a way to make up that money.

“I obviously would have had to pick up extra shifts at my job, which is definitely chaotic in my last year doing an honors thesis,” says Mansvelt.

“I managed to pull through academically speaking with grades, but my mental health definitely suffered.”

Mansvelt also wants to see the university communicate more with teachers about how to solve the school’s issues.

University statement

The Acadia Broadcasting newsroom requested comment from the president and the board chair. The school forwarded an emailed statement.

The university says these things are affecting schools across the country:

  • international student enrolment
  • decreasing government funding
  • high inflation

“The Board and the university administration are aligned on the need for timely, innovative and sustainable long-term solutions,” the university writes.

“We understand that the union is giving voice to concerns. We have assured them, our faculty and staff that we will work collectively to take action to place the university on a course for sustainability.”

However, Conrad says there have to be other issues going on because, despite these issues, other schools, like Dalhousie University are still growing. Mount Saint Vincent and Acadia University are maintaining their undergraduate enrolments, according to a graph the union posted on social media.

This graph from the Saint Mary’s University Faculty Union shows enrolment numbers over recent years. (SMUFU/X)

“The spin that the university will tell you is that this is a sector wide problem. It’s not, because we’ve looked at the evidence. We’ve looked at the data. We’ve done the analysis. We’ve done our homework.”