Memorial University's Students' Union (MUNSU) says multiple access to information requests reveal that the university is considering a tuition hike for September 2017, while it spends hundreds of thousands of dollars searching for new staff.

"So we found two main things here: first, initially, it was the exorbitant spending that the university is doing on search committees for administrative positions and secondly, [there] is apparently a secret committee proposing tuition fee hikes here for students," Renata Lang, MUNSU's director of student life, said.

Lang said Noreen Golfman, MUN's provost and vice-president (academic), is one of the chairs of the secret committee, which has been meeting since early April.

'Too early' to comment 

MUN President Gary Kachanoski said it's too early to comment, saying discussions for tuition come up every year and are currently ongoing.

"The budget for the university is approved by the board of regents after consultation with senate, our academic governance, and after consultations and approval by our board of regents," he said.

"I can't comment on what will be a part of the budget at this stage, it is just too early. And of course, like everybody else, we're waiting on what the provincial fiscal update will be here in September/October so we won't finalize anything until we also know what that will hold for us and how, as an institution, we need to respond responsibly to that."

Renata Lang

Renata Lang, MUNSU's director of student life, says she and the other student union members think their findings are "extremely concerning." (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Premier Dwight Ball said he has not had any discussion with the university surrounding tuition hikes.

"It's an autonomous body that makes those decisions themselves, but I think the commitment that [we've] seen even in our spring budget this year of over $60 million in tuition to provide tuition assistance, maintaining a tuition freeze, that shows our support to maintain tuition at very reasonable levels and in this case, in our budget this year, to maintain a tuition freeze.

Concern over spending

The possible tuition fee increase and secret committee aren't the only things concerning the student union.

According to a statement sent to media outlets Thursday morning, the union has ATIPP data which shows the university spent "half a million dollars since early 2015 on hiring for 10 senior positions."

The release also lists the following expenditures towards hiring:

  • $73,883 in 2016 to hire an Associate VP Administration & Finance for the Marine Institute.
  • $129,681 in 2013 for a search for an Associate VP Academic Undergraduate Studies.
  • $153,313 in 2013 for a "VP Research" cost.

"That's what's making us really concerned: they are having the secret committee to raise tuition, but they're spending such large amounts," Lang said.

"And we know that these positions need to be filled, and we want them to be filled by qualified people, but tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, seems extremely excessive to us, when many students as we know are struggling to pay rent and their tuition."

MUN president Gary Kachanoski

MUN president Gary Kachanoski says tuition is discussed every year during budget planning. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Kachanoski said he thinks any money spent on hiring is reasonable and justified.

"Memorial is a nationally ranked university that has a responsibility to ensuring that we get the best quality of people from across the country and even across North America to come here and want to work here, raise their families here, and so we do an extensive search as all universities do for senior positions," he said.  

"If they're not from Newfoundland, we want to make sure that they understand the place, that they feel welcome, and that they understand Memorial University. So we spend time with them while they're here. All of those processes have costs associated with them."

Premier Dwight Ball

Premier Dwight Ball says he has not had any discussion with MUN about the impact of tuition freezes in the wake of MUNSU's claims. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

The union is calling on the university to stall the planned fee increase. Lang said she and the other members of the student union find the information from the ATIPP documents troubling.

"We're all extremely, extremely concerned which is why we wanted to come out and let the public know what is going on here," she said.

"They've committed to keeping a freeze, but we're showing the secret committee actually shows otherwise."

With files from Jeremy Eaton