A million by any other name is still a lot

By Ben Hoffman

One million. This is an immense number. If it takes you five minutes to read this article, you could read it 3,300 times in a million seconds; or, if you prefer, think of it this way: a million loonies stacked on top of each other stands 1.75 kilometres tall, about three times as tall as the CN tower. A million is a lot of loonies.

The worst of it though, is somewhere along the line, the number became so meaningless that it became the basis of economy. Look at any budget, such as The Canadian Government’s brief online budget (http://www.fin.gc.ca/budget04/brief/briefe.htm), and you will be haunted by a clause in brackets claiming the numbers displayed are in millions of dollars.

As an amusing anecdote, consider what you defined to be your base unit of currency when you were, say, 13. Odds are it was about $5; this also probably means that you wouldn’t hesitate to spend any amount of money less than five dollars, a bag of chips here, a fruit drink there. Then, when you grew up to become a big university student, your base probably shifted to around $50. It wouldn’t be surprising or outrageous to spend $6 on fast food once in awhile, because that’s far less than what the bills cost.

By now you’re probably wondering “what’s the point you babbling euphuist?” The point is–aside from the fact that you should learn and enjoy the word euphuist–a million’s a lot o’ moola. A passable living can be made with $30,000 for an individual, or $60,000 for a family. That means that a cool mil is worth 16 families’ livelihoods.

Yet, here we are, watching Carolyn Andres and two other dedicated university employees disappear to gain the big budget equivalent to a 13-year-old’s bag of 25 five-cent candies. That, by the way, is estimating their wages at a quite liberal value.

So, how about instead of cutting employees from an already understaffed campus, we find the funds somewhere else? Let’s us have a look-see what’s available at the Office of Institutional Analysis’ fact-book (http://www.oia.ucalgary.ca/Facts/03-04FB.pdf). In 2003, the university spent $86 million on supplies. Recent cutbacks on university-supplied course outlines in non-digital format would tend to suggest that some of the money formerly spent on paper is now being saved. We could use that! But, we don’t. $12 million was spent that year on maintenance, things like lawn mowing outside the sulfur research lab. Do you even know where the sulfur research lab is?

What really gets the proverbial goat is Dr. Weingarten’s salary, an estimated $350,000–the second most of any Canadian university President. Presuming his other senior staff are paid equivalently, the senior admin alone could provide a million dollars by shaving back their salaries from gross to merely slightly overindulgent; to do anything else would reek of ignorance of the condition of the school.

It’s not a question of how much money there is around, it’s just that, hell, we can’t very well go with an ugly lawn in the research park.

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