By Ian Pearce
Patrick Walsh, chair of Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Local 52, represents approximately 1800 support staff workers.
Walsh was in the hot seat after President Murray Fraser announced budget cuts at a town hall meeting last week.
“I have been deluged by calls and by people who are frantic and I’m urging them to adopt a wait-and-see policy,” Walsh said.
With the announcement, support staff are concerned about job security.
“With the bulk of our budget going to salaries, if you have to cut, you have to cut bodies, and if you can’t cut academic staff it doesn’t leave you lots of choice,” Walsh explained grimly.
The union questions some of the reasoning behind the decision.
“I think a five-year plan is absolutely necessary, not just for the university, but also for the government.
“I’m not sure how well that will work–they had a funding plan for the hospitals which they just reneged on–so ‘How good is the government’s word?’ would be my next question.
“I don’t think the idea of doing the government’s job of cutting back for them is a good one. I think it is self-fulfilling… I would have waited at least until the announcement of the funding (from government).”
Walsh admitted that alternatives are limited. He said that private funding raises “the great fear that only the rich will get a university education.”
Then, he added, there is the threat to academic freedom.
Walsh also questioned whether the private sector is capable of meeting the challenge.
“As economies rise and fall, there is a decreased step (in funding) just before an (economic) recovery,” he said. This fact limits industry’s ability to provide “enough funding” just when it is needed most.
Nevertheless, the union recognizes administration’s main problem.
“I guess I’m sympathetic with a bit of the crying that the university does (about government funding cuts).”