Kevin Wamsley has only been the Nipissing University president since August of 2021, but that has not stopped him from defending the northern Ontario University which was part of a recent auditor general's report.
"I think it has been a great distraction for many and I think the headlines have been unfair," said Wamsley in an interview with BayToday.
"I would say to our students this university is stronger than ever; its programs, its people, its offerings, and this has shown itself in our strong class that arrived at Nipissing this year and we have a strong recruiting class arriving next year. This university is in it for the long run and people can depend on that because this university is so important to the North Bay and surrounding region."
However, according to the report conducted by Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk, North Bay's Nipissing University needs to manage its debt and improve the competence of its board of governors.
When a university is negatively impacted by administrative and financial issues it puts the education of its students, employment of its staff, and contributions to the economy of the Province, at risk says her report, titled Value-for-money Audit.
Read the complete report Financial Management in Ontario Universities.
The report looks at key operations and governance structures at four Ontario universities including Nipissing, Algoma University, Ontario Tech University, and the University of Windsor.
The auditor general's report underlines Nipissing University was $34.7 million in debt as of April 30, 2021.
See related: Nipissing University at high financial risk
While the debt comes as a concern, Wamsley is very blunt saying it will not lead to any cost-cutting measures like what had to take place at Laurentian University where 58 undergraduate and 11 graduate programs were cut along with slashing 194 full-time positions back in 2021.
"What happened at Laurentian University should not ever happen at any other university," said Wamsley.
"Of course, the province was afraid of that and wanted to take steps to understand why it happened. That is what this Auditor General's report was all about.
"The Auditor General's report is not going to have the effect of cutting any major items out of the budget including sports teams or academic programs but evaluations of academic programs is always an ongoing thing. We have to respond to what the students want. The students vote with their feet so it is a constant state."
See related: After 22 months, Laurentian finally exits creditor protection
In the report, Lysyk pointed out that Nipissing university did not assess the financial feasibility of major capital projects before proceeding with them.
Those capital projects in question were the new artificial turf soccer field and the Robert J. Surtees Student Athletic Centre.
"It is quite normal for a university to have a 30 to 40 years financial plan for capital projects," notes Wamsley.
"If you compare capital debt at Nipissing you would find the northern school roughly 7 to 8 per cent less than what some other university's long-term debt is so we are not concerned about that."
However, the report concludes that Nipissing is currently financially sustainable, having a positive net asset balance as of the end of 2020/21.
"What they did conclude is we are financially sustainable which is good news," said Wamsley.
"They also confirmed by the Ministry's own agreement that the Ministry will work in partnership with all the universities to make sure that they are financially sustainable so that was another bit of good news. I see it as a partnership between the province and the university understanding that the university's sustainability is going to be based on increased revenues to balance budgets and number two, to build up reserves for the future. Those are the basics."