Collegial Action Needed in Response to Memo Calling for $5 Million in Cuts to Faculty of Arts at University of Alberta

Below is the text of a memorandum sent by Acting Dean Heather Zwicker to all members of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta earlier today. (Dean Lesley Cormack is on holidays.) The memorandum indicates that the Faculty of Arts is to cut over $5 million cut from its budget for 2013-2014.

Ten points about the current situation:

1.  It needs to be generally known that the Faculty of Arts has been progressively cut or shaved down since 2009-2010, the year that departments were forced to cut 50% from their budgets. That year, for lack of anything else of significance to cut, the Department of English & Film Studies had to pull most of its phones out of the wall. It also needs to be known that for the last two years, we have had to cut over $1 million from the Faculty’s budget each year. These cuts have resulted in the loss of significant numbers of support staff, along with the closing of faculty lines. Put simply, we have been losing people, lots of them. We have lost people that none of us has ever met because they will never have the opportunity to be our colleagues, and we have lost the people who offered the Faculty’s teachers and researchers the support they need to pursue the University’s academic mission to the best of their ability. All of this is totally invisible to the public, but we need them to understand that we have already lost far, far too much.

2.  Amongst all of the other devastations to the University of which today’s announcement for Arts is a part, the cuts to Arts are the canary in the coal mine. The best universities in the world generally have a Faculty of Arts that outranks the institution as a whole. A great university cannot be great, and cannot meet its academic mission, without a great Faculty of Arts. For anyone to think that the Faculty can endure cuts of $5 million and the institution as a whole retain its stature, and continue to grow, would be delusional. 

3.  With today’s memorandum, we are witnessing the evisceration of a great University.

4.   A merely administrative response to this situation will not do. 

5.  Something other than a merely administrative response can only happen through exercises of collegial governance. The Faculty should not wait until October 9th, a full four weeks after the Dean’s “State of the Faculty” address on September 11th, and a full six weeks from today, for a meeting of Arts Faculty Council.

6.  The Faculty should formally take a stand against the principal driver of these destructive cuts, the Government of Alberta’s budget decision of 7 March 2013.

7.  For the last week, the Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education has been claiming that the cuts are “cuts of necessity.” (See, for example, this report of his declarations from Medicine Hat.) His position from the start of this process, back in the spring, has been to argue for the cuts, rather than defend the institutions comprehended by his portfolio. There was clear evidence of this at the Government’s “Estimates” meeting of 10 April 2013.

8.  Only those who have succumbed to the “culture of conformity” that Paula Simons so succinctly indicted in her column for the Journal a few days ago can believe that the cuts are “of necessity,” or that our response as a Faculty should simply be to execute them.

9.  If the members of the Faculty that hosts the people that, according to the Dean, teach  students (amongst other things) how to criticize the policies of government cannot themselves publicly challenge the Government decisions that risk the devastation of the University, who can?

10.  Can we not band together to inform this Government of its responsibility to engage in whatever innovation in revenue generation is necessary to extricate the University from this situation? After all, no government of the day — even one formed by a party that has formed many governments in succession — is free to risk the devastation of its jurisdiction’s institutions simply because it can’t bother to find the money. It should be especially not permitted to do so where the money is readily available.

THE MEMORANDUM:

From:

Heather Zwicker, Acting Dean                                                                                               

Re:

Budget Cuts: Implications for Arts                                                                                                       

As you will have seen from President Samarasekera’s communication of last Friday, we must reduce the Faculty of Arts 2013/14 budget by 7% in order to arrive at a balanced budget for 2014/15. There will be an additional 2% reduction in each of the following years. This cut has been applied to all academic units. Administrative units are required to cut 8%/2%/2%.

The Faculty’s budget currently sits at $77m, so we are looking at a reduction of $5.39 million in hard dollars by 1 April 2014.

The Voluntary Severance Program is our first course of action to find these savings. Under the terms of this program, the Faculty is permitted to “cash in” vacated positions at full market value, which means total salary plus benefits (so, 120% of 2013/14 annual salary). Because salaries vary, it is hard to say precisely what number of voluntary severances would deliver the savings we need, but I anticipate that we would require 25-35 VSPs from our AAS:UA complement (360 professors, 4 FSOs and 25 APOs). The Dean’s office is working closely with department Chairs to identify ways of making this transition easier for those who opt in, including provisions like the ability to hold research grants, the possibility to maintain office space if you continue to supervise graduate students and conduct research, and the extension of library privileges. If you would like to explore these or other issues, please discuss them with your department Chair.

There is no doubt that this is a very difficult time for the Faculty of Arts and for the University of Alberta. I am already grieving our losses. The breadth of this Faculty is one of our strengths, and so is our capacity for collegiality. This is going to be a hard year. We are stronger together, and I am grateful, as is Dean Cormack, for your critical thinking, your helpful suggestions and your generosity.

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11 Responses to Collegial Action Needed in Response to Memo Calling for $5 Million in Cuts to Faculty of Arts at University of Alberta

  1. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    looks like they aren’t getting as many wide-eyed virgins to throw themselves into the VSP volcano as they’d hoped. Note all the language about how many nice things you’ll be allowed to keep providing, of course, you give up your job.

    that bit thanking us for our “generosity” — ahh, such a nice example of an attempt at performative speech surrounded by infelicities.

  2. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    & I know Monty Python references are a rather a debased coin in internet currency, but am I the only person for whom the Vice-Dean’s anticipatory grieving for 10% of her faculty colleagues brings to mind the Bring Out Your Dead sketch?

  3. Brad Bucknell says:

    Carolyn’s points are important. I don’t think we can remain much inside the box any more — though I am not quite sure how to effectively leap outside of it.

    does anyone have an ideas about how we might mount some challenge which is more public, not filtered by the Journal, etc?

    And what might we say, effectively?

    • Makere Stewart-Harawira says:

      I agree Brad, Carolyn and all…Would our own Town Hall meeting with a pre-agreed agenda be feasible>? Mid-September or earlier?

  4. C. Gagne says:

    Carolyn, there is an error in your first point. The operating budgets of departments were not cut by 50%, they were cut by approximately 5% that year and then 2% the following year. I don’t have the memo with me but the figures were widely circulated at that time. See, for example, http://whithertheuofa.blogspot.ca/2011/04/2-budget-cut-to-faculties-now-official.html

    • Arts Squared says:

      Christina, You are referring to the cut to the budget for the Faculty, as Jeremy Richards’s title for his post for Whither makes clear. My post refers to the departmental operating budgets

        – the budgets for administering the general daily workings of departments. The % cut to the Faculty to which you are referring translated into the situation in which departments had to make choices about whether to keep phones or photocopy syllabi for their students, etc. Perhaps your department, Psychology, which has an unusual arrangement by which it is only partly housed in Arts, was exempt from these cuts. As I have noted, the consequences for English involved our having to pull most staff members’ phones from the wall as the cost of phone lines for faculty members made up a little less than half of the departmental operating budget as it stood that year.
      • C. Gagne says:

        My department was not exempt. I think I understand your confusion– you have mislabeled what is meant by operating budget. The 50% is NOT to the department’s operating budget, which includes faculty salaries. The operating budget was cut 5%. I think what you are referring to is the portion of that budget that is not allocated to salaries. It was not 50% of the total operating budget but rather 50% of approx the 10-20% of the operating budget that does not include salaries and is used for phones, photocopying, etc.

  5. Did you know that “Arts Squared’ has just become “the Faculty’s blog”?. (At least that’s what Gateway thinks.) How’s that for upping the public challenge.

    • Arts Squared says:

      Thanks for letting me know, Sylvia. I’ll get in touch with the staff at the Gateway on Tuesday morning.

  6. “If the members of the Faculty that hosts the people that, according to the Dean, teach students (amongst other things) how to criticize the policies of government cannot themselves publicly challenge the Government decisions that risk the devastation of the University, who can?”

    Who indeed? I’ve been trying to figure out why the public is not up in arms about the cuts to post secondary education. Then the penny dropped. The effect of these cuts (while devastating to university faculty and staff) will not impact Albertans for years to come. The U of A is in the same position today as health care was during the Klein years. Notwithstanding the protests of health care advocates, Klein blew up hospitals, reduced the number of hospital beds and privatized health care services. The public applauded him for eliminating the deficit and were tickled pink when they received their $400 cheques. Today the public is singing a different tune as the impact of Klein’s ill conceived cuts are felt across the province. Excessively long wait times and expensive private care for basic services is taking its toll. I don’t know if the province will ever recover. This is a long winded way of saying that the U of A must challenge the government’s decisions with everything its got. If the U of A waits, it really will be too late, both for the university and for Alberta.
    Susan Wright

  7. Arts Squared says:

    Two follow-ups:

    Christina, I can now confirm that the title on the spreadsheet that was set before our department council in 2009-2010 reads “Department Budget and Projected Non-Salary Expenditures.” Without any prompt or question from me, at this morning’s departmental council meeting for English & Film Studies (EFS) the chair of my department referred to this budget as “the department’s operating budget.”

    And that’s absolutely right, Susan. At this morning’s meeting of EFS we were starting to envision the changes that will be necessary to our program if the Government does not reverse its decision. Students will feel the first full impact of any such changes in September 2014. And the effects of the fundamental restructuring that will come to the University as a whole if the cuts are not reversed will have a *generational* (i.e., 20-year impact). In other words, with the appropriate support from the Government, this year, 2013-2014, or twenty years on, would have been the year when the University of Alberta might finally (after two or three crucial years of renewed support in the last decade) to have been said to be recovering from the Klein cuts of the early 1990s. And so I say again, no government of the day, even a government formed by a party that has formed successive governments, should be permitted to devastate institutions such as the University of Alberta created generations ago and intended for the public good of this generation of Albertans and generations to come.

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