Yes, April is the cruelest month of 2017—so far. It’s been almost exactly a year since I ranted in this space about the 2016 budget and the cuts government then asked us to take over four years. Those cuts amounted to almost 25 million dollars. This is happening. But I am not going to rant here and now. It’s tempting, but where is that going to get me? The province is in deep demoralizing trouble. Almost everyone I speak to inside and beyond the university is discouraged. Friends and colleagues across the country are sending me sympathy cards.
Our office has just come through several days of budget planning, as deans and academic support unit directors presented how they were coping with the deep cuts to their operations. Most of those presentations were delivered last week right before this year’s budget was read in the House of Assembly. Now we can add another 6.5 million dollars to the overall cuts—for this year alone. Despite what you might be hearing from various sources outside the university, the math is easy: we are absorbing $5.4 million this year. Add that to the fresh wound of $6.5. As I just said, that’s just for this year. More cuts have been determined over the next two years, at least.
Memorial’s budget is largely tied up in salaries, as much as 95% of operations in some units. That doesn’t leave room for much else. Challenged with balancing a budget with $11.9 million less—for this year alone—it is no wonder that we must ask some tough questions. Our mission first and foremost is education—to provide learners with the best possible environment in which they can shape their lives. Look around. The physical plant is in rough shape in all but the newest structures. Our rating on the facilities risk index is abominable—hazardous in some areas. When we do not have the means even to patch, let alone restore and renew our teaching spaces then what are we do?
So that’s the bricks and mortar. What about the demand for wider, faster broadband capacity across all our campuses? That costs big bucks. You can’t see those costs but we sure depend on that service. Because it’s 2017.
Consider the demands on our academic programs. We are obliged to honour accreditation standards in our professional programs, for starters. Do we stop training nurses and social workers because we no longer have enough staff to deliver those programs? What happens when units can’t replace their computers or upgrade their software? What do we do about our online delivery of courses and programs if the lines can’t actually be “on”? How can music students learn to perform when the pianos can’t be tuned or there’s no money to replace the lights in the recital halls? How do we honour our commitment to the growth in our engineering programs if the promise of strategic investment has been withheld?
If we can no longer afford to hire permanent faculty then we are compelled to resort to enlarging the precariat. Will those we can and do wish to recruit find us to be leading edge enough? Is there enough support for establishing a sustained research program? Teaching and research require a strong library. With the rising cost of foreign exchange rates for journals and monographs over the last few years, our wonderful library system is confronting some serious choices. Where does one find the resources necessary to maintain the library’s long-standing reputation? How can we compete with other universities when hiring scientists if we can’t support the start of their research projects?
Everything is now on the table, because it has to be. On the 24th we are holding a special meeting of Senate to help set that table for the future. Right now, it is really important to know the facts. Don’t believe everything you read or hear. Ask questions. Demand transparency. Participate in the future of this university. It’s all we got.