OCUFA: Without a president, a mandate, or the trust of sector stakeholders, now is the time to shut down HEQCO
Toronto, Aug. 20, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) —
The senior leadership of the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) today announced that it was resigning, including President Harvey Weingarten. HEQCO has been the chief advisor to the Ford government on a number of controversial initiatives, including an attack on Ontario faculty over the age of 65. Since its inception HEQCO’s primary target in its analysis of Ontario’s system of postsecondary education has been faculty.
“HEQCO has long lacked the capacity or the confidence of the sector to play any role in improving postsecondary education in Ontario,” said Rahul Sapra, President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. “Instead of continuing to waste money on shoddy research and bad policy advice, HEQCO’s $5 million funding should be reallocated to fill some of the recent cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).”
HEQCO was responsible for a recent round of consultations on compensation for faculty over the age of 65. The consultations produced a remarkable set of regulations that allowed the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities to arbitrarily override collective agreements and reduce the compensation of faculty over the age of 65.
“It was ironic that Weingarten positioned himself and HEQCO as the Ford government’s trusted advisors on faculty pensions. What Weingarten has not made a point of stressing is that he himself is the beneficiary of a massive public sector pension while he continued to work full time in a high-salaried government position,” said Sapra.
While President of the University of Calgary, Weingarten reached a secret deal with the University for a pension top up worth a total of $4.5 million. Weingarten received his payout just as the University of Calgary was engaged in a $14 million cost-cutting exercise that saw many staff and faculty lose their jobs. It took the Alberta Auditor General several attempts to access the contract, which was originally not put in writing. Weingarten’s initial contract made no mention of the supplemental pension. Weingarten now has a $4.5 million public pension fund along with a salary of $228,000 and whatever pension and benefits he negotiated as President of HEQCO and his new role at Massey College. Throughout his tenure at HEQCO, Weingarten consistently identified the pensions and salaries of Ontario faculty as the key challenge for the sustainability of Ontario’s system of postsecondary education, completely ignoring the fact that Ontario has the lowest level of per-student public funding in Canada.
“It was amazingly hypocritical of Weingarten and HEQCO to attack the modest pensions of Ontario faculty while collecting a $4.5 million pension that was originally negotiated in secret. Faculty at the University of Calgary were rightly appalled by this sweetheart deal and raised serious concerns about it. One wonders if that’s why Weingarten seems to have such great resentment toward faculty and faculty associations,” said Sapra.
“Weingarten seemed fixated on faculty pensions as a threat to the sustainability of Ontario’s system of postsecondary education. However, he seemed untroubled by the issue of sustainability in Alberta when he made this self-interested financial arrangement. Like most of Ford’s government and advisors, Weingarten thinks sacrifices and transparency are for other people,” continued Sapra.
Governed by a board appointed by the government, HEQCO has often misrepresented itself as an independent, arms-length agency of the government seeking to influence the key decision-makers, when in fact it receives its direction directly from government. The MOU signed between the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) and the Chair of HEQCO states that the Chair of HEQCO is accountable to the “Minister for the performance of the Agency in fulfilling its mandate, and for carrying out the roles and responsibilities assigned to the Chair by the Act, this MOU, and all applicable Government directives.”
HEQCO has also been repeatedly criticized for a lack of rigour and scientific integrity in its data analysis and research. Its reputation and credibility among sector stakeholders quickly deteriorated along with the quality of its research. Its controversial recommendations and failure to account for the fundamental role chronic underfunding has played in undermining postsecondary education and research quality resulted in its work being widely dismissed.
“During its existence, student numbers have skyrocketed almost seven times faster than faculty hiring,” Sapra said. “Because of its failure to tackle the most pressing challenges facing postsecondary education in Ontario, the province now has the highest student-faculty ratio in Canada. HEQCO has served no useful purpose besides apologizing for a funding model that leaves Ontario dead last in the country. It is time to chart a new path, starting with the elimination of HEQCO,” concluded Sapra.
Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 faculty and academic librarians in 30 faculty associations across Ontario. For more information, please visit www.ocufa.on.ca.