Monday, March 15, 2010

  • Provost calling for 3.5 per cent reduction
  • ‘A cut we can absorb without layoffs’
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

[Painting, and surrounded by paint]

Fine arts student Sherry Czekus works on paintings that will be on display in the "Render" gallery of East Campus Hall next week. More than two dozen fourth-year students will be showing off their thesis work as they approach graduation. The show, "Relative Proximity", will run March 25 through April 11; an opening reception is set for the 25th (Thursday of next week) from 5 to 8 p.m.

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Provost calling for 3.5 per cent reduction

reported in part by Brandon Sweet, Communications and Public Affairs

The university is looking at a 3.5 per cent budget cut for the fiscal year that starts in six weeks — a reduction that will be made without layoffs or program cuts, according to provost Feridun Hamdullahpur.

He presented the draft 2010-11 budget to the senate finance committee on Friday. It will go to the university senate and on to the board of governors, the ultimate decision-making body on financial matters, at its quarterly meeting on April 6.

But there are uncertainties around key parts of the budget, as the two major components of the university's revenue, tuition fees and operating grants, are both under the provincial government's control. The outstanding questions might be answered when the Ontario minister of finance brings down his budget later this month, Hamdullahpur said.

Said the provost: "Our assumption is, given the economic circumstances and the cumulative debt the province has, the most optimistic expectation from the province is — no change. Anything in addition to this will be pleasant and welcome."

In other words, he’s anticipating that per-student grants will stay at the level where they've been for several years, and limits on fees will go up in the usual annual pattern. (At its February meeting, the board of governors went ahead and approved UW's 2010-11 fees on that assumption.)

What with those fee increases, enrolment growth, and minor changes in the university's other income, the total revenue will go up by $20 million from 2009-10, to $460 million, the provost predicted. That's an increase of a little more than 4 per cent to cover cost increases and the expenses of teaching more students.

Some of the university’s expenses are going up dramatically, the provost noted. Utility bills are expected to rise by some 15 per cent this year, thanks to higher gas and electricity prices as well as more campus buildings to heat and light.

But the big year-to-year jump in costs involves salary increases for faculty and staff members, whose pay and benefits make up about 70 per cent of total operating spending. Hamdullahpur noted that negotiations with the employee groups are still under way, but he’s speculating that salary scales will go up by 1 per cent on May 1. Individual “merit” (staff) and “progress through the ranks” (faculty) increases add to the cost, as does the university’s share of pension and benefit programs that are related to salaries.

Bottom line there: the provost will budget $11.5 million more for salaries and benefits in the new fiscal year, and adds up total expenses to be $472 million. That means a gap of more than $12 million between income and spending, and that’s where the 3.5 per cent budget reduction comes from.

As in the past, it’s not quite “across the board”, as some items, including student aid, library materials and utility bills, aren’t subject to the cut. But departments both academic and non-academic have to find that much to slice out of their budgets.

For the record, previous years’ budget reductions have been 3 per cent in 2009-10, 2 per cent in 2008-09, 2 per cent in 2007-08, 1.5 per cent in 2006-07, 1 per cent in 2005-06, 2 per cent in 2004-05, 2 per cent in 2003-04, 2 per cent in 2002-03 and 3.5 per cent in 2001-02.

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‘A cut we can absorb without layoffs’

The budget cut comes, Hamdullahpur said, “with an assurance that we will continue our operation with no requirements for layoffs or unpaid vacations.” But, he repeated, “this budget is based on some major assumptions” that could be upset when the Ontario government reveals details of its funding plans.

A key question came from one member of the finance committee — mechanical and mechatronics engineering professor Metin Renksizbulut, the faculty association’s long-time negotiator in salary discussions with the UW administration.

“We heard the Speech from the Throne the Ontario government gave recently,” he said at Friday’s meeting, “and there’s a general feeling of a strong commitment to education with the five-year ‘Open Ontario’ and 20,000 student spaces opening this year, very ambitious. Given that background, I personally find this budget to be very conservative. If the government has a strong commitment to education, you wouldn’t expect the operating grant to be frozen, and with new students coming into the system there’s a significant share for us, I would imagine. But with the size of our university, you have not included any of those. There could be very significant amounts of money arriving.”

Said the provost: “It’s a fair observation. Up until last Monday nobody was aware of new developments, so there is definitely a disconnect between the throne speech and the ability of the budget to deliver. I would very much prefer to be wrong on the pessimistic side rather than the optimistic side. We have had no signals from the Premier that the budget will have any tools to properly address this. Furthermore, if there’s anything in the budget to address this, it will be a one-time thing. There is no plan anywhere that showed how they based their numbers on 20,000 students, or this ‘open university’ concept. This was a big surprise to all universities.”

President David Johnston added: “We will know within two weeks whether you’re right or not.”

The university will still have a budget deficit in 2010-11, at least on paper, to the tune of $2.8 million. Johnston noted that the university tends to begin each fiscal year anticipating a deficit, but finds ways to cover it as the year goes on. Wiping out the deficit for the coming year right away would have required a bigger cut, around 4.5 per cent, he said, and “when the board hears from the deans what a 4.5 per cent cut looks like, they turn away.”

The meeting wound up with a series of comments from deans and other senior administrators about how they’re managing with budget cuts and the university’s policy, dating from the fall of 2008, to fill vacant staff and faculty positions only if they can be defended as “mission-critical”.

“In my faculty,” said the dean of applied health sciences, Roger Mannell, “there’s three vacancies in one department. One has been designated mission-critical; for the others, we can get along with jury-rigging.”

“We’ve worked out a cut we can absorb without layoffs,” said dean of mathematics Tom Coleman. “If we worked out a 4 per cent, we probably couldn’t.” He noted, however, that some positions in the faculties are funded through research, externally supported “chairs”, and other sources of revenue that don’t figure in the operating budget.

Associate provost Bruce Mitchell, whose portfolio includes the library, co-op education and the registrar’s office, warned that the academic support units “feel like we’re more in a bind. We don’t have the opportunity to see more money, but instead more work. Positions open means work isn’t being done. People cover in the short term, but we have to be careful that it doesn’t become the pattern. In a lot of academic support units there’s a discussion of reducing expectations and quality.”

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[Porter at night showing a script lower-case pi]

And finally . . . students Brent Komer, Sylvia Klassen, Rob Martens, and Katie Schriener decorated the Dana Porter Library yesterday for Pi Day (always March 14, for 3.14) by opening and closing the blinds in the windows to create a pattern. Says Klassen: "The endeavour, which resulted in the Greek letter pi being displayed on each of the library's four faces, took the four students approximately 45 minutes to complete." It's the latest gesture in a decades-long tradition of using the library's lights for artistic expression, political statements or just plain mischief. Photo courtesy of Brent Komer.


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Open house tomorrow

More than 5,000 people — high school students and family members — are expected for the university's March Break Open House tomorrow, says Kim McKee of the visitors centre. "The day officially runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.," she says. "However, there will be extra people on campus since many visitors will be here before and after these times." Tours leave from the Student Life Centre; information sessions are scheduled in the SLC and the Humanities Theatre.

Link of the day

The Ides of March

When and where

Co-op job interviews for spring term positions, “continuous” phase March 9-31, rankings open every Tuesday and Thursday. Details.

Waterloo Unlimited design program for students in grade 11, through Friday. Details.

Architecture student co-op job interviews for spring term, Monday-Thursday in Cambridge, Friday in Toronto; rankings March 22-23. Details.

Senate graduate and research council 10:30 a.m., Needles Hall room 3004.

Centre for Teaching Excellence workshop: “Academic Interview” 12:00, Tatham Centre room 2218. Details.

African Awareness Day (“The Struggle Continues”) sponsored by African Students Association, 12:00 to 9:00, Student Life Centre.

‘Better searching, better marks’ workshop on doing research in the UW library, 1:30, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Sociology lecture: Ron Melchers, University of Ottawa, “Social Science Evidence in the Courts” 2:45, Hagey Hall room 1104.

Cultural Encounters, Encountering Cultures series: Ken Coates, dean of arts, “The Other Side of the Frontier: Indigenous Encounters with Newcomers” 4:30, Arts Lecture Hall room 113.

Explorations 2010 visit to faculty of engineering for students in grades 6, 7 and 8 and their parents, 4:30 to 8:00 p.m. Details.

Waterloo Institute for Health Informatics Research presents Shawky Fahel, The JG Group, and Robert Rosehart, WLU, “Intelligent Senior Independent Living Spaces” Tuesday 12:00, Davis Centre room 1304.

‘Dental School Interviews’ preparation workshop Tuesday 5:30, Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Live and Learn Lecture: Colin MacLeod, department of psychology, “Attention and Memory and How to Improve Them” Tuesday 7:00 p.m., Waterloo Public Library main branch.

Centre for Teaching Excellence workshop: “Graphic Syllabus” Wednesday 10:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

St. Patrick’s Day luncheon at University Club (lamb and barley broth, pork chop, North Sea perch, Bailey’s cheesecake) Wednesday 11:30 to 2:00, reservations ext. 33801.

UWRC Book Club discusses The Optimist’s Wife by Eudora Welty, Wednesday 12:00, Dana Porter Library room 407.

Education Credit Union workshop: “Let’s Talk Mortgages” Wednesday 12:15, Davis Centre room 1302, reservations janinew@

Free noon concert: Trio Albonata (violin, cello, piano) Wednesday 12:30 p.m., Conrad Grebel UC chapel.

Career workshop Wednesday: “Success on the Job” 4:30, Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Exchanges in Germany: information session for engineering and science students, Wednesday 4:30, Davis Centre room 1304.

Blood donor clinic Thursday 10:00 to 4:00; Friday 9:00 to 3:00; March 31, 10:00 to 4:00, Student Life Centre multipurpose room, appointments call 888-236-6283.

Rainbow Reels Queer Film Festival sponsored by Waterloo Public Interest Research Group, March 18-21, Princess Twin Cinemas. Details.

Jewish Studies Lecture: Michael Higgins, St. Thomas University, "Luminous and Vexed — Benedict XVI and the Jews: A contorted alliance” Thursday 7:30 p.m., Siegfried Hall, room 1030, St. Jerome's University.

Dragons’ Den open auditions (looking for aspiring entrepreneurs to appear on CBC series) March 22, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., CBET, 295 Hagey Boulevard. Details.

University senate monthly meeting March 22, 4:00, Needles Hall room 3001.

‘Sweats to Suits’ style advice by Jas Banwait, Waterloo alumnus and owner of Toronto tailoring company, March 23, sessions 1:00 and 2:30, great hall, Student Life Centre. Details.

Friday's Daily Bulletin