Weingarten’s state of university address

By Вen Li

“Over 20 years, the absolute amount of money we have coming from the government and tuition has increased. [But] adjusted for inflation, the total amount available to the U of C has declined overall over the last 20 years. We have less money per student now than in 1980.”

President Harvey Weingarten took pride in the fact that the U of C has been doing more with less for two decades, but demanded more government funding in his state of the university address on Fri., Feb. 14.

"The best investment you can make is an investment in education," Weingarten said to media after the address.

The University of Calgary Faculty Association’s President John Baker agreed on Friday that the university should seek more funds from the provincial government and criticized the university for not doing more.

"The approach taken by the university is a gentle approach so far," he said. "If the situation is as bad as they describe, maybe it’s time to take a less gentle approach, maybe it’s time for the university to get fed up."

Concerns over the budget arose after the university announced details of its budget restructuring process on Thu., Feb. 13.

In part, academic units will be asked to reduce their spending by seven per cent over two years, and service administrative spending will be reduced by15 per cent in two years.

Baker said that any reduction in academic spending would be detrimental to the university’s ability to educate students.

"Any potential faculty members thinking about coming to the University of Calgary will see four- and three- per cent cuts," said Baker. "They will ask themselves ‘Do I want to go to a university facing a seven per cent budget cut when I have two other offers?’"

Weingarten, in his address stated repeatedly that the quality of education was tied to available financial resources.

"The more resources we have, the more instructors we can have," he said. "More resources means higher quality."

In response, Baker questioned Weingarten’s justification for reducing academic budgets.

"Why we need to cut to the bone of the academics is beyond me," said Baker. "One worries that if these cuts are necessary, will we be able to meet the goals of the university and senior administration in implementing the changes envisioned in the academic plan?"

Despite reductions to academic spending, Weingarten was willing to enhance the research focus of the university.

"The research activities of our professors not only brings in professors, students, and faculty, they bring direct enhancements to the teaching mission of our university," he said.

Baker also criticized the university for its inaction at the government level regarding the budget situation.

"It’s not entirely clear that the cuts being thrown about are necessary," he said. "If the situation the university is in is as severe as the president says, I don’t understand why [U of C] Board of Governors members are not in Edmonton explaining the situation to the government."

Weingarten acknowledged during his address that the percentage of the cost of providing a university education paid for by the government has decreased from about 90 per cent in 1980 to approximately 70 per cent in the 1990s. He stated that while the decline was less than ideal, especially since the university has seen dramatic student and faculty increases in the last two decades, the university has been successful due managed growth.

He also emphasized the university’s increasing need for sponsored facilities and equipment if the U of C is to remain a mediocre research university in Canada.

"For the U of C to maintain it’s eighth-place position [among Canadian medical-doctoral universities] by 2010, we must have total sponsored research of at least $300 million," he said.

Currently, sponsored research amounts to approximately $23 million annually, making up about five per cent of the university’s total budget.

Another concern for Weingarten included per student space, which has declined by approximately 20 per cent since 1980. Currently the U of C provides 16.8 square metres per student, behind the U of A which has 17.9 square metres per student, a difference of approximately three Scurfield Halls or one Social Sciences building.

Weingarten also called for an improvement in the student to faculty ratio which declined from 24-1 in 1980 to 36-1 currently, and for a possible review of the faculty promotion process which happens annually during reading week.

Students’ Union President Matt Stambaugh was not immediately available for comment on Friday.

Leave a comment