“Budget consultations have begun in earnest at Memorial University…” Well, doh, is there any other kind of consultation? Yup, we are in the first rush of consideration of how best to absorb a great big chunk from our base. What’s disturbing is how the amount our base will have to absorb is being spun differently, depending on who’s speaking.
Here are the facts: no matter what you hear government officials are saying—Memorial is getting hit big time. And, no, government did not give us enough to cover a continuing tuition freeze or to manage this plant, which is falling apart in almost every nook and corner (see above). Sorry, Mr. Minister, that’s the truth, sans spin.
Yes, this year government gave us $4 million in lieu of tuition, a figure that has lost some of its meaning over the years, since no one understands exactly why 4 million = lost tuition, but let’s go with that for now since we’ve been going with it ever since we were last cut. Another good thing, we also got the funding to honour collective agreement salary obligations and a long-promised ongoing commitment to the expansion of Engineering, although this latter bit is more complicated than meets the eye. Another blog for that one.
What didn’t we get: a restoration of funding for deferred maintenance. We were cut 9 million and change last year, same this year. That’s money dedicated not only to patching and emergencies but also to renewing our teaching spaces—you know, moving us from chalkboard to 21st century learning environments. That’s the Arts and Admin Building corridor right outside my office in that picture above—a patchwork of asbestos abatement activity, a crazy quilt of plaster and duct tape. Nice, eh? At this rate of maintenance deferral I am positive that wall will only look worse by the time I am ready to retire.
What else is hurting? Honey, I shrunk the staff. How about a salary attrition budget of about 3 million this year, and another 3 million over the next two years. Yes, folks, that’s 6 million in salaries that have to be found somewhere. That means HQP constriction.
You mean there’s more? Government cut 8.3. million of our operating budget this year—presto finito. We were also promised, to use an inappropriate verb, more cuts over the next three years totalling 10.6 million a year. Yes, you heard me, each year.
So by 2019-20 our base budget reduction will be 18.9 annually. If you add the salary attrition piece, we’re looking at 24.9 million dollars less annually forever and then some.
And there’s even more, like having to swallow the new HST slapped on our annual purchases (roughly 2 million), but let’s stick with that almost 25 million reduction by 2020. That’s a hell of a lot bigger than a certain Minister claimed. Yes, we have 4 million for tuition in lieu. He forgot to mention the other 21 million we have to find. And we’re not even sure about the future of our pension plan, for which we are currently without a 27 million or so contribution this year. If you do that math we are on the road to having to find, gulp, about 56 million. And I haven’t even mentioned the Medical faculty which gets its funding, and directives to cut, from Health, not Advanced Education.
So the spin from government about Memorial having received enough to keep a tuition freeze is intolerable. Let’s share the real facts about this and start talking about just how serious a challenge these cuts are.
I hate to add to the litany of whine and complaint about the provincial budget. It wears us all down and we are all sick of it. Everyone acknowledges we are in a fine mess, sure. But if only there were something to give us a sliver of hope or warmth, something visionary or promising to live for. With this budget you can say the sun shall shine no more. I’m not a psychologist but surely the whole tone of the piece is counterproductive, demoralizing and defeatist. Every time I see a tweet about someone determined to leave the province for once and forever my heart sinks. Respected local journalists are openly encouraging Newfoundland students to get out of town. What I really don’t get is how government could think an entirely totally negative-themed budget, not to mention one that disproportionately hits students, artists, the poor, women, etc. would generate anything but rage in the best cases and despair in the worst. See Alberta, see the federal Liberals: therein lies hope, and much better messaging.
No one I talk to can see how the university can absorb 25 million dollars worth of cuts, on top of last year’s hit, without serious adjustments to one or all of the following: tuition fees, academic programs, staff, quality of teaching, infrastructure plan, student services, to name the most obviously vulnerable and necessary areas of post secondary education.
What I am hoping is that for once we all quickly get on the same page about what needs to be done in the wake of this monster of enforced attrition and reduction. There’s no good can come out of fighting with each other. We all want the same thing, a university this province can be proud of, one it deserves for this and future generations. If you have questions about how we spend our money or where our priorities lie, then shout out.
I am desperately seeking a silver lining. Know the facts. Challenge the misconceptions and spin. Put students first.
Whenever someone says to me s/he feels sorry for me to be in this job at this time I like to say, what do you mean sorry for ‘me’? We’re all in this leaky boat together.