University of Manitoba braces for 4% average cut to budget

The University of Manitoba administration has instructed faculties and other non-academic units to prepare for budget cuts of around 4 per cent for the 2015-16 academic year.

U of M Faculty Administration, non-academic units may see cuts in 2015, says president David Barnard

David Barnard, president of the the University of Manitoba, has instructed all faculties and non-academic units to expect budget cuts in the range of three and four per cent in the 2015-16 academic year. (Aldos Rios)

The University of Manitoba administration has instructed faculties and other non-academic units to prepare for budget cuts of around 4 per cent for the 2015-16 academic year.

David Barnard, president of the University of Manitoba, said in a release Friday afternoon that the proposed budget cuts are contingent on issues facing provincial post-secondary education funding models.

“In Manitoba, many years of low provincial grant funding and frozen or controlled tuition rates have resulted in severe stresses on the capacity of our post-secondary institutions to deliver on their mandates,” said Barnard. “At the University of Manitoba in particular, the financial demands associated with operating our institution have outpaced the growth of our resources.

“Put bluntly, the funding model in place does not enable the university to fully support the outcomes our students, staff and faculty are capable of achieving for themselves and, ultimately, for the betterment of Manitoba.”

The provincial government increased the annual operating grant for all universities in the province by 2.5 per cent in its March budget for 2014-15.

As a result, the U of M is drafting its 2015-16 budget in anticipation of either a 2.5 per cent increase or no increase at all. All units are being asked to prepare and make recommendations for a three per cent budget cut if the operating grant increases at the same rate as 2014, or four per cent if the operating grant remains stagnant.

Students, faculty questioning cuts

Students and faculty members are questioning whether the cuts are fully justified and whether the level of transparency in the university’s budget process is sufficient.

“In general, students aren’t consulted in any way when it comes to where budgets are going ... right now that’s non-existent,” said Kaitlyn Gibson, a fourth-year global political economy student at the U of M.

“Our tuition rises every year. How is that being allocated, and is our administration working in the most efficient way?We need to be talking to them and there needs to be an understanding of what the issues are, and they should know that students are concerned, and that they do want to be part of this.”

Gibson, along with several other students and faculty members, has organized a public assembly to be held on Nov. 26. The assembly will act as a means of organizing resistance to the impending cuts while also seeking more information about the budget process.

Robert Chernomas, a U of M economics professor critical of the proposed cuts, is slated to speak at the assembly.

Chernomas argues that the university’s claims of a funding crunch are misleading. He claims that the U of M is spending millions in administrative costs—including through communications and marketing—that should be allocated to faculty and other academic areas.

“They are making choices that may not be consistent with the interest of students, professors, and staff at the University of Manitoba. And so what we want to be able to do is make those decisions transparent,” he said, conceding that the U of M did experience a decrease in its operating grant in 2013 and 2014 relative to previous years.

“They are still playing with an awful lot of money that they are using for other purposes that could make it possible not to have cuts to faculty and instead continue funding students, graduate students, [and] libraries so we don’t have fewer courses or larger class sizes.”

U of M 'budget isn’t transparent,' says CFS-MB

The Canadian Federation of Students-Manitoba (CFS-MB) passed a motion at its Nov. 6 provincial executive meeting that repudiated the proposed budget cuts at the U of M. The motion also vowed that the CFS would lobby the provincial government to increase funding for post-secondary education in next year’s budget.

“Be it resolved that CFS-MB support all University of Manitoba community members in their efforts to resist austerity at the university and in post-secondary education more broadly,” the motion stated.

“Be it further resolved that CFS-MB immediately launch an anti-cuts campaign at the University of Manitoba in collaboration with all interested students and student groups, faculty members and organizations, unions, staff and the broader community.”

Zach Fleisher, chairperson for CFS-Manitoba, is particularly critical of the university’s early budget process, known as the strategic resource allocation process.

“The university budget isn’t transparent, and it isn’t accessible, and it’s unclear how these decisions are made,” he said.

“To my understanding, students aren’t bringing these concerns up, and if their elected student representatives are privy to this and have a say on this, they aren’t making it known.”

'A dark time for the university': UMSU president 

Al Turnbull, president of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU), has known that the U of M was preparing for cuts over the last year and a half.

In his role as UMSU president, Turnbull sits on the Senate’s strategic planning committee and is a member of the university’s board of governors. He argues that the U of M is faced with difficult choices given the funding outlook from the provincial government and that UMSU is committed to lobbying the government for more stable funding in anticipation of the 2015 provincial election.

“This is in many ways a dark time for the university, where they can’t make any moves to raise tuition and they haven’t been given the amount that has been promised them from the province,” he said, adding that the U of M was making long-term projections on the basis of a larger and more steady funding increase from the provincial government.

“When there’s no money, you can’t make any perfect decisions. I’m in all the meetings and I have a fairly good understanding of the situation right now that the university is in, and it isn’t good, and it hasn’t been good for a year and a half.”

University of Manitoba Faculty Association vice-president Mark Hudson responded to queries about the cuts.

“Faculties are being asked to plan for four per cent cuts next year, and four per cent cuts the year after. As far as what that means for UM students, I would suggest that you, and any other interested students, inquire about this with their Deans and with the Office of the President, and demand to know what is on the chopping block. In Arts, which is my own Faculty, it’s impossible to imagine how cuts of this magnitude won’t impact seriously on our programs, course offerings and class sizes. With just a 1.5 per cent cut last year, departments across Arts were already forced to chop a very significant number of courses,” Hudson said.

A different version of this article was originally published Friday afternoon, Nov. 14, by the Manitoban.