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University of Waterloo | Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, April 1, 1998

  • It's Simon for president
  • Pension premiums could drop again
  • A little fifty-mile swim
  • Nuts to you, and more
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It's Simon for president

[Simon the Troll] The presidential nominating committee announced yesterday that it has chosen Simon the Troll to be UW's fifth president. He'll take office on July 1 next year, or sooner if the current president, James Downey, leaves in awe on hearing the news about his successor.

"It was a unanimous decision," says a communique from the nominating committee, which had been expected to take most of this year in a painstaking Canada-wide search. "We're not even doing any interviews," added a committee member who asked to remain nameless. "As soon as we saw this guy's CV, and realized the breadth of his experience, there was no doubt in anybody's mind.

"Besides, if he's used to living under a bridge along Laurel Creek, maybe he'll accept a presidential salary that doesn't break the $100,000 barrier. Every buck helps these days, you know."

In his series of reminiscences about UW's history, Simon has not indicated his age -- beyond hinting that he was already venerable when farmland was turned into the UW campus forty years ago -- or his academic background. He has, however, made clear that neither locked doors nor good taste is much of an impediment to him. Both traits are expected to stand him in good stead in Needles Hall.

Pension premiums could drop again

Seriously, now. The president and provost both said yesterday that they want to avoid another general budget cut as a way of dealing with a $2.8 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year. "Whatever combination of factors it takes" should be tried instead said president James Downey, speaking at a meeting of the senate finance committee. He agreed with John Thompson, the dean of science, who said the university already has "impossible workloads" and low morale.

"We're getting, frankly, to the point where we don't have a quality institution in many areas," Thompson said, warning that it would get much worse if budgets were sliced again. The provost, Jim Kalbfleisch, said a 2.1 per cent cut would be required to balance the 1998-99 budget if nothing else is done.

"There are a lot of questions that remain," said Kalbfleisch as he took committee members through a sketchy outline of the budget. "And the big one is, what are we going to do about the 2.8 million? It's too red a number to take to the board of governors!"

A budget cut or levy would be "unpalatable", the provost said, "having done this five years in a row". He mentioned several other possibilities, some more realistic than others, for bridging the gap between $183.0 million in revenue and $185.8 million in spending:

The idea that drew the most interest from committee members is the possibility of reducing the amount UW puts into the pension fund. Even with the pension plan changes that are being approved this month, and even with a 50 per cent reduction in premiums that was introduced last year for a three-year period, the pension fund is doing so well that trouble with the government lies ahead, Kalbfleisch reported. By law, a pension fund can't have a surplus of more than 10 per cent of its total value, and the UW fund is pretty well certain to surpass the 10 per cent level next time it files a financial report.

Reducing or eliminating premiums for a time would help to slow the growth of the pension fund, and at the same time would save money from the university's operating budget. As currently scheduled, UW will put about $3.9 million into the fund in 1998-99 (that's half of the $7.8 million that would be its normal contribution). So a saving of the whole $2.8 million deficit is at least possible.

Cutting the university's contribution would also have the effect of reducing the premiums paid by individual staff and faculty members, since by the rules of the pension plan, UW must at least match what individuals pay -- a total of $3 million this year, after the 50 per cent reduction.

The pension and benefits committee is to meet Monday and will be asked to start considering the possibilities.

In other discussions, the committee was told that there's no sign of information from the Ontario government about the distribution of its university grants from next year, meaning that the revenue figures in the draft UW budget are based on assumptions and guesses. There are also no detailed rules about differential tuition fees in "professional" programs. "Realistically," Kalbfleisch said, "the earliest that we would be able to consider differential fees would be for January -- or next May."

A little fifty-mile swim

To be metric about it: the challenge was to swim 75 kilometres, a mere 3,281 lengths of the Physical Activities Complex pool. One swimmer who decided to try it was Lydia Bell, staff member in UW's audio-visual centre.

Some colleagues -- and fellow swimmers -- apparently didn't believe she could do it, but Bell is clearly tough stuff. The result: last Friday, just two months after starting the marathon during her daily lunch-hour swim, she finished.

Co-worker Christine Robson describes the scene:

Dwight Taylor in A-V co-ordinated with Rebecca Boyd in athletics to have Lydia's certificate ready for the Friday lunch hour swim when her final laps were done. Also, Dwight hooked up a sound system to the observation gallery above the pool so that she could be cheered on, or badly embarrassed, by her co-workers. Keith Townsend took photographs of Lydia with her certificate and water bottle prize, as well as in the pool by the edge. We are very proud of her achievement; her supervisor, who was away ill, still brought a congratulations card with him on Monday, and the director, who had supplied gold stars for her tracking sheet in the office, also gave her a prize of a little chime bird house which is hung proudly in the office window.
Final note: "Another employee from a different department who also swims on the lunch hour told Lydia that there was no way she would finish the challenge. He bet a coffee and doughnut that he was right. Pay up!"

Nuts to you, and more

"If I were to chase you with a meat cleaver," says Mert Cramer, "it is unlikely you would pay any attention to a performance of Aida, even if the cast were stark naked." His point here -- and he does have one -- is that "all of us have had experiences where the emotional state controlled the logical response." And so Cramer, a PhD graduate from UW's computer science department who's still been seen around the place, will speak today on "The Loose Nut that Holds the Keyboard".

"No, this is not an April Fool's joke," insists a note from the CS graduate students' association, which is presenting the talk. Cramer explains: "Are software systems any different from meat cleavers? Nope! The same organization of priorities affects how a person reacts to a software system. The lack of recognition of the 'emotional human' by designers and scientists limits the effectiveness of their efforts."

So he'll talk about Bill Gates's elitism, the money that's wasted on people installing their own software, "the failure subtlety", "why Stussy is vital", Freud and a few other things. The talk starts at 3:30 today in Math and Computer room 5136.

And other events on this damp day:

And happy April. "It is better to be a fool than to be dead" (Stevenson).

CAR


Editor of the Daily Bulletin: Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo
credmond@uwaterloo.ca | (519) 888-4567 ext. 3004
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