Dire times ahead

By Ryan May

The recent announcements by The University Budget Committee regarding budget cuts and tuition increases over the next four years have created an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty, and distrust at this institution. The recent media attention and the provincial election provide the perfect opportunity to address the situation.

Our budget cuts come in two parts: an understandable, but unfortunate, three per cent per department to cover recent budget deficits, and an additional two per cent for “reallocation.” The additional two per cent cut is seen by many departments as an unnecessary claw-back of their base funding and the yet unknown process for the division of the reallocation funds is a further source of discontent. The senior administration has revealed that monies will be divided up according to the four priorities laid out in the Academic Plan:

1) Advancing health and wellness;

2) Leading innovation in energy and the environment;

3) Creating technologies and managing information for the knowledge society;

4) Understanding human behaviour, institutions, and cultures; and their underlying “Pillars of Prominence and Promise.” Specific numbers for reallocation are not available, nor is a timeline for their release.

In addition to this 20 per cent budget cut–following years of cuts–TUBC also announced its intention to pursue maximum tuition increases over the next four years resulting in approximately a 5.8 per cent increase per year compounded, or a total increase of 25 per cent. This is unacceptable in Canada’s only debt-free province. Apparently, the “Alberta Advantage” does not apply to students.

Many faculty members reported that they already must pay for basic supplies out of pocket or their research budget, and are forced to do their own cleaning. Others foresee further growth of class sizes and the elimination of labs and tutorials as Teaching Assistant positions are cut. This reduction of instruction can only serve to erode the quality of the educational experience offered at the U of C.

Salaries for faculty and support staff make up the vast majority of the budget in all departments, and so the only way to cut 20 per cent is to reduce the number of positions, either through attrition or through layoffs. This will increase class sizes, reduce course offerings to core offerings only in many areas, and reduce the availability of instructors outside of class time as they are forced to teach more classes and do more of their own preparation work such as typing and photocopying. The demand for sessional instructors will also increase–at the same time as their working conditions continue to deteriorate–likely creating a shortage of instructional staff and further increasing the workload of current sessionals and tenured professors alike.

For many small departments the loss of even one instructor or one (often the only) support staff member would be devastating, and could undermine the department’s ability to offer even the core courses required for students to earn their degrees. A petition from the Chemistry department signed by 50 staff and faculty identifies the loss of its accreditation status as a major long-term risk.

The cuts have also pitted departments against each other as they scramble for funds and classify each other as haves and have-nots in hopes of receiving reallocation dollars at the expense of other departments. They have also generated suggestions such as the elimination of all non-revenue generating non-academic departments. Non-academic departments are also included in the cuts and students can already expect to see reduced service. The elimination of non-academic departments will no doubt have a huge impact on the student experience.

In midst of this turmoil the senior administration has made little comment. The faculty and staff have, however, shown these cuts to be hypocritical as they often run counter to the stated goals of the university or undermine the Academic Plan that they are designed to support.

A major goal of the current administration, as outlined in the Academic Plan, is to “create a quality learning environment built on integrated teaching, research, and creative activities.” This could prove difficult if many departments are offering only core courses, or less. Research will be difficult if many TA positions (supported graduate students) are forced to leave and professors are too busy teaching to do any research or supervise the remaining graduate students. Perhaps this goal only applies to departments and faculties on the administration’s list of priorities. Maybe students in non-priority departments should consider transferring before their program is closed, like the Leisure, Tourism, and Society program was last year. Who needs Fine Arts, Humanities, or Communications and Culture anyway?

Another major goal in the Academic Plan is to “Provide a positive work environment and culture that supports and expects excellence, quality, innovation, and accountability.” It is awful hard to create a positive work environment when staff is over worked, under paid, and working under the shadow of year-end layoffs or possible department closure. Excellence, quality, and innovation cost money, probably too much. Maybe they should concentrate on churning out as many undergraduates as possible to meet the president’s targets for increased enrolment, if administration remembers to let them in. Apparently this goal only applies to faculty and staff, because administration did not show a lot of quality, innovation, or accountability in announcing the cuts with very little outside involvement and without alternatives.

Missing from this war of words is the voice of students. Beyond a few comments by the Students’ Union, some editorials and opinions pieces in the Gauntlet, and a handful of letters in the Calgary Herald, very little has been heard. This is because, as the SU’s failed attempt at a Budget Townhall Meeting showed, students have very little understanding of how the budget affects them. They do understand tuition increases, but announcing them at the same time as when the majority of students were preparing for midterm allowed the impact of such increases to go unnoticed. The fact is that TUCFA and the support staff’s union AUPE probably have more influence on, and understanding of, the budget than the student body will ever have. Therefore, students need to support them in any way they can. If we all stick together, students, faculty, and staff, we might just make it through the next four years with something resembling a university. Maybe.


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