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U of C community contemplates impact of 200 job cuts

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As the announcement that there will be 200 job cuts on the University of Calgary campus this fall sinks in, many are contemplating what it means for the university community.

Shirley Maki, president of the university's Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Local 52, said she's not only worried about AUPE members losing their jobs, but how the cuts will affect students.

"Our members are the people that keep the building running," said Maki.

"Our members are the people who keep the buildings clean, our members are the people who work in the library and assist the students in finding the information they need, our members are the people who are sitting in the faculty offices making sure that the students have all the information they need in order to proceed with graduation."

U of C president Dr. Harvey Weingarten expressed regret over the decision, but said it's "simply a reality for the university."

"This is not a happy or pleasant thing to do and we will do this in the most supportive way we can but, again, we are required to live within our means and that's what we are trying to do," said Weingarten.

The U of C isn't alone in having to make tough decisions to balance the books, said Weingarten, noting the recession is touching everyone. The U of C's greatest budget challenge is the recent hit to the endowment fund -- the university lost 15 per cent of just over $400 million. But, said Weingarten, their losses were in line with other major Canadian universities.

Further, Weingarten pointed to the zero per cent increase in the operating budget from the province in 2010-2011, a poor performing pension fund and the battle to keep up with rising salary increases.

The first round of cuts will take place in the fall, said Weingarten.

"We are primarily looking at the university business services, so things like [Human Resources, Information Technology], financial services, that's where, as we've indicated, the initial cuts will come," he said.

AUPE president Doug Knight pointed to the flawed logic of the province's grant freeze, noting more students go to school during a recession.

"Study after study show that post-secondary education is actually an investment, we get far more returns, there's higher paying jobs and less use of social services, these sorts of things," said Knight. "Higher education is a net benefit to the economy, and it shouldn't be treated as an expense as the government is treating this."

Despite assurances from university administration that the cuts won't affect education, Students' Union president Charlotte Kingston said it was hard to see how, if the 200 jobs were considered necessary in the past, "every one of them can be accommodated by streamlining processes."

Kingston also pointed to the province's recent $20 million funding announcement for U of C institute Tecterra, one of five Ingenuity Centres for Research and Commercialization in the province.

"Both the [U of C] and the province pumped millions of dollars into something that is not going to benefit the undergraduate experience at the University of Calgary at all," she said. "It's important to foster innovation within the province but I think now is a particularity poor time to justify spending $20 million dollars, just from the province's end, when this institution, with a $14 million dollar deficit, had to cut over 200 of its employees and is currently scrambling to make up for a three per cent deficit cut to all of their business units."

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Harvey walks away with an extra appprox $3M pension liability (see note 16 (5) of the published U of C Financial Statements on the Financial Services website) and 200+ people will be layed off. How ironic. The note indicates that the 2002 commitment was formalized in 2007? FOIP the 2002 and 2007 information....