Budget Cuts

By Harvey P. Weingarten

Editor, the Gauntlet,

Re: “$60 million cut,” Oct. 21, 2004,

Thank you for inviting me to comment on this year’s budget process. I’ll use the opportunity to share some of my comments in a recent update to faculty and staff, and add what I think is a critical perspective on the university’s priorities-namely students.

First, I think it’s important to note that the $60 million “cut” the Gauntlet referred to in its headline last week includes millions of dollars that will, in fact, be reallocated to improving the student experience at the U of C. In short, we are spending more money in this area. This was a deliberate decision two years ago and I do not expect the commitment to change.

Reallocations are spending increases in priority areas, and the reallocation of budgets is what makes it possible to direct more money to student programs. Over the last two years that has included $2.8 million to undergraduate and graduate student support, $2 million in classroom support and $3.6 million in library acquisitions, for example. It includes new programs and projects, such as web development of services for students. In total, it adds up to more than $13 million–with more than $10 million of that an ongoing funding commitment in next year’s budget.

What’s more, it is not enough.

At General Faculties Council earlier this month I suggested that we must consider creating a wireless campus, guaranteeing a small-group class for every first-year student who wants it, mentoring programs for students and freeing the calendar of excessive restrictions on programs.

I am not suggesting that we can do all of this or that these suggestions are even necessarily the best options. We want to hear more from students and faculty before any recommendations are made. But I am committed to spending more money on students, and it is certain that we will not be able to meet that commitment if we do not create a reallocation pool.

My remarks below are largely from last week’s update to faculty and staff, but they bear repeating, because I will argue that this is necessary to make reallocations over the next four years in order to direct more resources to students.

Some of our resources will have to go to continued deficit-reduction. We will know the amount later when we have a clearer picture of our funding envelope. But some of our resources–perhaps even the lion’s share–must also go into reinvestment and reallocation. Unfortunately, that aspect of the budget is being ignored.

To put this in perspective, the reallocations and reinvestments totaled $36 million over the last two years. We deliberately spread deficit-reduction over two years to make that increased spending possible. Had we not done so, there would have been no increases in student support of the kind described above.

Faculties, their students and their programs benefited from these initiatives and to overlook them is to willfully ignore the very real impact of reallocation and reinvestment. As I noted last week at GFC, budgets have increased every year and the total number of faculty has also grown every year. We confidently expect both trends to continue.

The relatively easy solution is to allocate resources more or less across-the-board. The consequence of that approach, I suggest, would be very little change and an inability to advance in key areas. It would also be inconsistent with many messages I get telling me that across-the-board resource allocation is not the answer.

The call from some quarters to stop reallocation is inappropriate for this or any university. It is a call for nothing to change.

While I understand the objections to preferential allocation, I disagree that this approach is new or unique. Every time a Department Head chooses to hire a scholar in one area instead of another, that is differential reinvestment. Every time a Dean spends money in one department instead of another, that is differential reinvestment.

I do not apologize for choosing to focus on the university’s success or the priorities it has identified. The U of C has received disproportionately more government funding than any other post-secondary institution in Alberta. We are expanding rapidly and growing in international stature in a number of fields. We are attracting unprecedented amounts of corporate and community funding support. And we will soon announce a significant year-over-year increase in research funding.

The University Budget Committee is now digging into next year’s budget in earnest. We expect to have the criteria for reinvestment in a few weeks. We will share them, and we welcome feedback, remembering that while debate is the lifeblood of a university, it must be informed and accurate.

Again, thank you for this forum to comment. I look forward to what will no doubt be a vigorous discussion.

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