February is typically a busy time for university administrators as many are analysing Trent’s most recent enrolment, retention, and revenue data in order to calculate the finances for the next year’s budget. Indeed this February is no different, save for one important detail: the actual budget development process.
This year, administrators working to prepare the budget are operating within a radically revised and restructured budget development framework, one which was introduced to the university this past fall. The details of the new process have only recently become public as the administration recently released key documents to the Trent community via the MyTrent online portal on January 29.
Steven Pillar, the University’s Vice-President Administration, is the person responsible for spearheading the revision of the budget development process. Speaking in an interview on Wednesday, he stated that the restructuring was considered a priority in order to combat the widely held belief that the budget process is somehow removed from the larger university community.
“When I first came [to Trent] last year,” he explained in an interview on Wednesday, “what I heard from everybody was that there was a cloud of secrecy over how the budget was developed. That may be a bit of an exaggeration but I believe there was some truth to it.”
Because of this notion, Mr. Pillar, along with Vice-President Academic Gary Boire and the AVP Financial Services Garth Brownscombe, set about this fall to revise the process and open it up for wider community participation. “I met with a number of groups on campus,” he said, “and asked them what would make the budget process more meaningful, transparent, and understandable. And, based on the feedback I got, [we] developed [this] revised and improved approach.”
According to the “Timelines Process” document, one of the documents released on January 29, budget development, under the new framework, has been underway since mid-December and has featured regular consultations with administrative and faculty committees, including the Colleges and Student Services Committee (CASSC), the Faculty Board, and the Board of Governors.
The document does not formally list any student consultations; it notes that March 25-28 could represent a time to hold “opportunities for input from other university community groups.” However, Pillar affirmed that he is committed to engaging with the student population noting that the administration will soon be advertising for upcoming student and faculty consultations.
In addition to the “Process Timelines,” the administration also released an accompanying text, compiled by Pillar, entitled “Budget Background and Current Fiscal Environment.” The four-page document aims to provide a brief overview of some of the university’s financial challenges, including government funding uncertainty and enrolment difficulties, and opportunities that are being used to inform the creation of the budget.
Pillar said that, in his view, the university needs to be transparent about its challenges and opportunities. “[The document] is to provide, for everyone in the Trent community, an understanding of the constraints in which we are working as we look towards developing a budget.”
According to the “Process Timelines” document, there will be several more meetings and committee consultations over the next several months leading up to the final presentation in of the budget report June.
In the meantime, the restructuring of the process should be greeted by the Trent community with cautious optimism as it appears to be welcome effort on the part of the administration to foster transparency and community participation within university affairs.