On August 16th the Dean of Arts at the University of Alberta suspended admission to 20 small enrollment programs. (You can see a PDF of the memo here.) The programs suspended include programs in classics, a number of modern language programmes, printmaking, composition and theory, world music and technical theatre. Current students in these programmes will be able to complete their degrees, but no new students will be accepted.
This is one of a number of responses by the University of Alberta to the 7.2% cut in provincial funding that the university has to deal with over the next couple of years (though how many years we have to deal with the cuts has not been established.) Given that Premiere Redford has promised stable 2% increases for a couple of years the unexpected cut means that the university has to cut close to 10% from what it was budgeting. As approximately three quarters of the university’s budget is in salaries, this means faculty and staff cuts, voluntary or not. After some silence the university has rolled out a major initiative offering voluntary severance packages. Arts need 38 faculty or senior staff to take the package. There is a line in the suspension memo that, “Members of faculty teaching in programs that are likely to be suspended should be notified as soon as possible so that they can determine their best course of action.” I’m guessing they are supposed to see writing on the wall, though I doubt any tenure-track or tenured faculty will be laid off, which means that if we don’t meet our target then non-academic staff will be laid off (again.) As others, like chairs in the Faculty of Science have pointed out, this could mean a “world where faculty have to do everything that support staff do now, plus teach more courses to cover for the loss of contract academic staff.”
Alberta is one of the wealthiest provinces in Canada, the province should be capable of providing more stable funding. We have little provincial debt, but a stubborn provincial reliance on volatile oil revenues instead of other forms of revenue like consumption taxes (provincial sales tax). Our universities therefore have to suffer the rollercoaster ride of oil and gas prices. When things go up we hope the boom will last and some of it come our way. When things go down we cringe and hope we don’t get cut too much because when the cuts are deep, as the recent ones are, they mean programme suspensions, merging departments, cuts to graduate funding, no more sessionals, and not replacing faculty. If one buys the frog in boiling water analogy the universities in Alberta are frogs that get tossed into boiling water every decade or so. I’m not sure we respond any more rationally than the frogs in slowly warming water – ie. universities in provinces like Ontario where provincial funding never really matches the rise in costs.
Some resources for those interested include:
- Ian Urquhart has a good article in The Globe and Mail on the lack of leadership on this issue, University of Alberta students coming back to financial panic on campus
- Paula Simons has an article critical of how the U of Alberta leadership has dealt with the cuts, University of Alberta flails in face of budget woes
- Whither the U of A? is a blog by and for academic staff at the University of Alberta by Jeremy Richards that deals with many of the issues, especially issues around reopening salary negotiations.
- Arts Squared is a virtual space for comment from the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta. The site had a good set of links to documents and public letters.