UPEI faculty concerned about medical school's impact on other programs
The "mounting pressure" to establish a faculty of medicine may be putting UPEI's long-term financial stability at risk, a letter signed by a group of faculty and staff members says.
The letter, which had the signatures of more than 50 stakeholders, was sent to the premier's office and the UPEI board of governors. It calls on the province and UPEI to be more transparent about how they will finance the medical school, and how the new faculty would affect the university's other programs.
"We don't have a lot of information about how this really different, big project is going to affect the shape of our institution, and people were increasingly expressing worry," said Margot Rejskind, an instructor in UPEI's faculty of music.
"Right now, the medical school looks like a financial black hole."
The most recent estimates put infrastructure costs, including construction and equipment, at more than $100 million. Operating costs for the school are estimated at $11 million a year for the first six years.
Rejskind said she and other faculty members are concerned about the amount of money the university is borrowing and whether it will need to take away from other resources to pay for it.
Wpotentially could all be at risk if something goes wrong here and we don't know what the plan is for that. We don't know what discussions have happened or haven't happened.
— Margot Rejskind
"If we start cutting other programs to support this one faculty, we would view that as a negative for the institution," she said.
"The programs that I teach in, that my colleagues teach in, we potentially could all be at risk if something goes wrong here and we don't know what the plan is for that. We don't know what discussions have happened or haven't happened."
The federal government announced last week it would contribute $19.5 million to help fund the construction.
Concerns 'unwarranted,' UPEI says
In a statement to CBC, the UPEI administration said the university is responsible for $10 million in fundraising. It said the remaining costs will be covered through a 20-year loan, which the provincial government has committed to paying back.
"All of the med school's capital costs, minus the $10 million from fundraising, will be covered by the provincial and federal government," the statement said.
"Therefore, the concerns raised about the ability to pay the debt are unwarranted."
The school will house not only the faculty of medicine and the doctor of psychology program, but also a patient medical home — providing service to more than 10,000 patients each year — and a simulation centre that will be used in a variety of medical fields.
Last month, the university said the first intake of students will happen in August 2025, a year later than planned.
UPEI said the faculty of medicine would not affect other budgets.
Call for transparency
But Rejkind pointed to the situation at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., which declared insolvency in Feb. 2021. It was forced to cut 76 programs and lay off nearly 200 staff and faculty members.
A special report from Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said poor management and lack of transparency drove the school into its financial crisis.
Rejkind said if there is a plan for UPEI, it should be made publicly available to everyone.
"I don't think it's too much to ask of people who, you know, are giving their time and their livelihoods to working with this institution to say, you know, you're partners in this, we're going to share some information with you."
The medical school is not part of the contract negotiations between the university and the faculty association, said Rejkind, who is the union's chief negotiator.
She said she would like to see the medical school, and its financial implications, become part of the election discourse.
"That kind of accountability is important. And I think that looking for a government and leadership that understands that, that understands that that's how you lead public institutions, that's an important question for us to be raising."