Winnipeggers have found new ways to protest cuts by the provincial government in the era of social distancing. With universities on the chopping block, student and faculty organizations are voicing their concerns about the future of post-secondary education.
On April 28, cars lined up outside the Manitoba Legislative Building, horns honking to voice their opposition against the Progressive Conservative government’s directive for universities, Crown corporations and other industries to present budget cuts of up to 30 per cent. A second “honkathon” is planned for May 13 at noon by Communities Not Cuts Manitoba.
Since the budget cut directive was announced on April 21, the fate of university staff and students is uncertain. As reported by the University of Winnipeg (U of W), spring session enrollment has increased, but it is unknown how universities will be able to provide the extended services to meet the increase in demand with the budget cuts that Premier Brian Pallister is proposing.
Brenden Gali, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students Manitoba, is fearful of how these cuts will affect students in the future. He believes that the proposed cuts will affect students very negatively.
“What this boils down to are larger class sizes, poor levels of engagement and more online classes, making it harder for students to learn,” Gali says. “Cuts to services means a lack of access to mental health services, multiple team sports and other aspects of student life. These additional components of universities may not be seen as essential but are integral to student life. So we should be very concerned with what this government is doing.”
U of W student Ebun Olorundare is in her final year of studies in computer sciences. Olorundare says she can’t see how the outcome of the proposed budget cuts can end favourably.
“I feel sick, because people in higher positions are taking regressive action without knowing the ramifications of these actions,” Olorundare says. “The government is looking at numbers and not the social and intellectual sides of it. The universities are already in an impoverished state and will crumble under these budget cuts. As students, we are stripped dry. Our hands are in the air. We are begging for help, and nobody is listening.”
Scott Forbes, a U of W biology professor and president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations, sees the proposed budget cuts as a direct threat to both university faculty and staff.
“The proposed budget cuts would mean large-scale layoffs of staff and faculty,” Forbes says. “At the very least, some programs would be cut or greatly downsized. It would start with high-level committees deciding where the cuts take place, and then more committees at the department level that decide which faculty get fired, beginning an ugly process that resembles the Hunger Games. That would be deeply unpleasant and leave a demoralized group of faculty, and that is never good for the student experience.”
On May 11, the U of W announced that the provincial government has cut the university’s operating grant by $2.3 million, or 3.7 per cent. It is the third consecutive year that the PCs have cut post-secondary operating grants, a move that the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) describes as “not a sustainable strategy.” In a press release, UWSA president Jibril Hussein described these cuts, when combined with the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, as “one of the worst financial futures students have ever faced.”