By Gayathri Peringod, November 8 2019—
Cuts to the university’s budget will force the administration to make difficult decisions regarding the funding of many services on campus, said Richard Sigurdson, dean of the Faculty of Arts at an informational event about the newly-released Alberta budget on Thursday.
The event, “Understanding the Provincial Budget: Student Edition,” was held at the Arts Lounge and featured presentations from Sigurdson as well as Students’ Union Arts Representative Marley Gillies.
“This event was really, really important to me,” said Gillies. “When I learned this information, my first impulse was to get it out to students […] it’s really important that you know what’s happening and what is affecting you.
“As you probably all know, the UCP promised a balanced budget. This does a lot of great things for our province, but we have maintained that the budget will not be balanced on the backs of students.”
Gillies summarized the key impacts of the budget cuts, namely the potential for student tuition to increase by seven per cent each year, the immediate cancellation of the province’s Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP) and the immediate suspension of the university’s Infrastructure Maintenance Program (IMP) which was allocated for repairing classrooms, lab and study spaces on campus.
Sigurdson took questions from the audience after his presentation.“I’d also like to […] encourage discussion about what’s most important to you, as the university and my team in the Faculty of Arts have to make some hard decisions about how to deal with the cuts that have already occurred for this year and are expected to continue in subsequent budget years,” he said.
The dean also clarified the extent to which the budget cuts will be affecting U of C’s budget in this academic year.
“President McCauley, at the General Faculties Council, said that the total number is 65.7 million,” said Sigurdson. “This is a budget cut for a budget year that’s already more than seven months in. People have been paid, equipment has been purchased, renovations have been going on.”
However, the budget cuts were expected and prepared for in advance by the university administration, Sigurdson explained.
“We knew that the cuts were coming. The UCP campaigned on a platform to reduce the budget of the government of Alberta […] so one thing to be assured of, is that the University of Calgary administration has been working hard already for a number of months to prepare for the eventuality of the Oct. 24 budget.”
Going forward, Sigurdson outlined some ways in which the university will attempt to make up for shortfalls experienced by the budget cuts.
“We will encourage greater philanthropic donations — we will see ways to try to leverage our research activity and find more partners that might make up some of the shortfalls we’re experiencing,” he said.
When asked about the likelihood of tuition increasing by seven per cent to help alleviate the financial costs of the budget cuts, Sigurdson did not rule it out.
“That’s not my decision, […] but the university’s facing fairly significant cuts,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to imagine any university that is going to be able to go through it without making at least some adjustments.”
However, any increase in tuition set by the university’s Board of Governors will only be enforced in the 2020–21 academic year, Sigurdson explained.
“The tuition decision is really for next year’s tuition […] the decision will have to be made, I’m sure, within the next two or three more meetings about what will come later.”
A student in the audience asked Sigurdson whether the SU Wellness Centre of the university may be impacted by the budget cuts.
“Well, all areas of the university will be reconsidering their budgets,” said Sigurdson. “I can’t speak for a unit that’s outside of mine, but I do know that the university has placed a very high priority on the Wellness Centre. The University of Calgary has I think one of the most laudable mental health strategies of Canadian universities, and I’m sure that everything will be done to try to maintain that.
“But again, everything’s on the table. All units, academic as well as non-academic are asked to reconsider their budgets.”
The university administration will hold another Budget Town Hall on Nov. 18 to discuss the impact of the budget cuts on the university’s programs and services and update students on what to expect in the near future.