Admin building displays university’s poor priorities

By Kalista Sherbaniuk

President Elizabeth Cannon’s office will now be 400 square feet with an additional 175 square foot bathroom. With this new office, Cannon will be able to have two homes, or perhaps she’ll just move into her office permanently. Maybe we can find more in the budget to make a little kitchen for her. Better yet, let’s just get her a chef and a court jester and turn the university into a castle.

God forbid the local barons, the vice-presidents, should have to mix with us commoners. Their new office spaces will be on average 20 per cent larger than the size that the university’s design standards specify. And with the private staircase costing $150,000, upper administration shall be able to avoid seeing the public as much as possible.

We cannot take the proposed renovations seriously. What has been described an innumerable number of times as “lavish” just seems so ridiculous given the present monetary situation in which the university has previously stated that certain cuts like those to arts and science programs have had to be made.

Granted, there is an economic opportunity in renovating the administration building, the idea being that with a better facility, prospective donors will see the worldliness of the university and want to improve it further by donating money.

What does not have economic viability is the extravagance of the renovations. The administration building has not been renovated for 50 years.­ It definitely requires upkeep and the offices could look nicer. This is all fair. However, only around $3 million of the cost is for the necessary mechanical upgrades while the remaining $4.6 million is for the 20,000 square foot space designated for the offices, meeting rooms and furniture for Cannon, five vice-presidents, the board of governors, the university chancellor and assorted staff. The proposal was passed prior to the cuts from the provincial government — a defence that has been put forth by officials. Nevertheless, the renovations should have been downscaled given that cuts were happening elsewhere.

From the three portions of the U of C’s budget, the provincial government’s cuts were slashed from the school’s operating budget. The choice to cut operating budget, which pays the staff salaries and other ongoing costs versus capital expenditures which is spent on major projects like renovations, was the university’s decision At the same time, the university saved money in a contingency fund, allocated to the unrestricted net assets budget. Some of this net assets budget is now being used for the administration building. Because part of the surplus that the university gained this year was designated as unrestricted net assets, these monies could have been used to reduce the deficit in the operating budget. Unfortunately this surplus was produced partially by cutting away at faculty staff — so students will have to endure these austerity measures without seeing benefits to the quality of their immediate education.

The reaction of the student body has been critical. A tumblr, entitled “What 8 million dollars could have bought,” posts suggestions for what the money could have otherwise bought. This outcry will change nothing. The $8.8 million was approved in the proposed fashion despite recognition that the decision would be criticized, according to the CBC.

The administration building is an obvious point of critique, though the issues underlying this controversy may be more noteworthy. The university created a surplus by decreasing the quality of their services. Although student outcry has fixated on the admin building renovations, they represent bigger problems surrounding the Eyes High program, inattention to student concerns and lack of public funding for education.

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