U of C faces 20% budget cut over next 4 years

By Chris Beauchamp

The University of Calgary Budget Committee is proposing another round of severe cuts and fund reallocations potentially affecting all departments, support staff and students at the U of C.

The proposed Draft Budget Directive calls for five per cent of the university’s total yearly operating budget for each of the next four years to be redirected into a “Re-allocation Pool,” said Vice-President Finance and Services Mike McAdam, who sits on the Budget Committee. The yearly $15-20 million pool would be used to pay the off the university’s outstanding $8-12 million budget deficit and to fund selected priority areas.

“The rate of growth of the U of C’s expenses in any given year outstrips the growth of our revenues,” said McAdam. “Until we get that dynamic in a steady state I’d rather solve our problems ourselves than wait for somebody else to solve them.”

The proposal would ask every department at the U of C to identify how five per cent could be diverted from its own budget to the pool, with two to three per cent going directly to pay off the deficit and the remaining one to two per cent being reallocated to priority areas. McAdam stressed that cuts would not occur across the board, but instead would be based on the needs of specific departments.

According to numbers provided by McAdam about 60-80 per cent of the total amount of money in the Re-allocation Pool will be used directly to pay the university’s deficit, with only 20-40 per cent slated for actual reallocation.

“Some [departments] will get all of the five per cent back,” said McAdam. “Some will get zero back, and some will get seven per cent back. That’s where we’ll see the differential change take place.”

However, department heads from Fine Arts to Biology are concerned that the total amount over four years of the planned reallocations and cuts–$60 to 80 million dollars, or 20 per cent of the current budget–may paralyze their ability to operate.

“The core of the university is being starved to death,” said Dr. David Reid, Department Head of Biological Sciences. “One way to stop this, which would not make [President Harvey Weingarten] very happy, would be to stop all these fancy new schemes they’re thinking up.”

Criticizing recent university initiatives that have received specific funding, such as the planned downtown campus, Reid likened the situation to a tree whose branches are being continually loaded with heavy objects, while simultaneously its trunk is chipped away.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see that the whole thing will eventually collapse,” said Reid.

“The average undergraduate is being screwed,” Reid continued.

McAdam said that he doesn’t see projects like the downtown campus or new Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy as contrary to core educational services. Rather, he views them as essential to the U of C’s goals.

“ISEEE is a central pillar to the Academic Plan for the U of C and we’re sticking to it,” said McAdam. “The core has been differentially protected.”

Dr. Anton Colijn, President of The University of Calgary Faculty Association said that the TUCFA membership is also quite upset about the prospect of budget cuts.

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Local 52 Chair Albi Sole, who represents support staff on campus, is concerned that continued budget cuts will mean a smaller workforce of support staff and by extension more work for faculty.

“The toilets will get dirtier,” predicted Sole. “The walls will get greyer. Faculty will have to start doing jobs that support staff have done. A lot of staff are already doing volunteer work.” Sole sees the situation as a symptomatic of larger problems in government underfunding.

“This is a process that has gone on for 13 years,” said Sole. “It appears to be the deliberate policy of the government of Alberta to let the core part of universities wither away in favour of a different type of university that’s funded from other sources. We have a government so entrenched in authority that they have enormous resources to implement their agenda.”

Alberta Learning Spokesperson Josepha Vanderstoop defended the 58 per cent increase in government funding to post-secondary education since 1996, although this figure falls short of the inflating costs of post secondary.

“Post-secondary education is an investment,” said Vanderstoop. “Certainly Albertans support that and government supports that. Universities manage the funding they receive.”

Asked whether government grants can be expected to increase on par with inflation, Vanderstoop repeated that universities manage their own funding.

“Because funding has increased, there is every indication that trend will continue,” said Vanderstoop.

The 2004/2005 U of C Budget process is ongoing. A final draft will be brought to the Board of Governors meeting Apr. 22, 2005 for approval.

U of C President Dr. Harvey Weingarten is currently out of the country and was not available for comment.

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