More buildings, fewer programs: the new University of Winnipeg

You may have noticed the flyers that went up last week around the University of Winnipeg, warning Sociology students to expect a decrease in professors and programming in the next year. You may have noticed how quickly those posters disappeared, as well.

You may also have seen the timely Winnipeg Free Press article detailing cuts to the Sociology and Modern Languages faculty (here). However, the problem goes even further than that.

According to University of Winnipeg Students’ Association President Lauren Bosc, six liberal arts departments are scheduled to lose programs and tenure-track professors. Students from the Sociology, History, Modern Languages, Criminal Justice, Classics and Psychology departments could all be affected by a decrease in faculty, Bosc says. This means the end of dozens of courses.

The most distressing aspect of all of this is how little concrete information is available on this subject.

One would hope that if this were not the case, administration would come out and say so. Instead, what we get are letters like this one, an open letter from Lloyd Axworthy addressing the ‘state of the budget’ for next year.

This letter skirts around any concrete explanation of what is going on with our arts departments, but identifies a noteable disparity between the funding the U of W receives from the provincial government compared to the University of Manitoba and Brandon University.

Axworthy’s letter reminds us that the $130 million raised this year for developing the campus is part of the capital budget. The operating budget is a separate budget. We can acquire new buildings, but it doesn’t seem we have the funding to actually run programs in them.

On May 10, 2011, the university posted this press release, which promised the hiring of 31 tenure-track faculty.

“The University’s budget also places high priority on excellence in instruction,” the press release says. It will “advance a better ratio between tenure-track faculty versus contract faculty or term appointments,” it promises.

Surely this expected “excellence in instruction” extends to the arts as well. I assume there is still value in degrees that can produce criminologists, lawyers, lobbyists, psychologists, therapists, communications specialists, editors, journalists, translators, interpreters, publishers, advertising executives, historians, sociologists, analysts, archivists, broadcasters, campaign workers, consultants, congressional aides, information specialists, intelligence agents, legal assistants and researchers, to name a few.

How then do we react to the issue of widespread, interdepartmental faculty cuts that have sprung up nearly overnight? It seems inconceivable a university could make a decision that signals the death of as much as 1/3 of our arts programming. And yet the U of W appears to be doing just that.

I’ve been reassured there is no need to panic. Of course not.

There is however a need to find out exactly how much is at stake here, and what we as students can do about it. So keep an eye out, ask questions, and be prepared to sign petitions. Even better, head down to the Senate open session this Wednesday, March 21 at 10:30 a.m. in Convocation Hall to show your support to our dwindling faculty.