The recent discovery that the University of Winnipeg will be unable to fill promised faculty positions continues to cause controversy.
According to Pauline Pearson, president of the University of Winnipeg Faculty Association (UWFA), faculty was not warned about the number of positions the university would be unable to fill.
The sociology, history, modern languages, classics and criminal justice departments have all been affected by the position cuts, said Pearson.
These departments had been given permission to advertise tenured track positions to replace faculty who were retiring or resigning. At some points departments were very near to selecting applicants when the process was suddenly cancelled by administration.
An earlier change in the university budgeting process was supposed to avoid these kinds of late-year announcements, said Pearson.
In an open letter to the media, university president and vice-chancellor Lloyd Axworthy cited provincial funding disparities, pension shortfalls and rising faculty salaries as the cause of the sudden financial crisis.
Pearson said the UWFA remains wary of this allegation.
“They had a multi-year budget that was presented to them by the government. Certainly the budget for those salaries were set down last spring as well, so again, not something that should be a shock,” said Pearson.
Vice-president academic John Corlett maintained the cancellation of positions was regrettable, but unavoidable.
“As the budget process unfolds and you get more clear information, some of the money you thought you had has gone to pay other obligations,” Corlett explained.
While nine faculty members are currently leaving the university this year, administration has approved 12 hires, Corlett said.
Corlett acknowledged the history, sociology, anthropology, geography, classics, modern languages and psychology departments have all had at least one resignation this year.
English, religion and culture, and criminal justice are among the departments able to offer tenured track positions this year. Some of these hires are to fill positions that have been vacant for several years.
“My job is to look at the entire institution, while a student is most affected by what is happening in his or her program,” said Corlett. “Overall, we’re still looking at no net loss.”
Most of the position cuts are in liberal arts departments, prompting many student societies to band together in protest.
Sociology Society president Gazel Manuel stressed the importance of student solidarity.
“It affects everybody in the arts and it affects the integrity of our university,” said Manuel.
History Society president Gabriel Hurley sees the cuts as a sign of where administration’s priorities lie.
“When the university doesn’t put a vote of confidence in a particular program, students notice,” said Hurley.
Students packed an open session university senate meeting last Wednesday, March 21 to demand answers from Axworthy.
While Axworthy responded to questions regarding the cuts for almost an hour, the fate of the departments in question is still unclear.
Joel Penner, a fourth-year German studies student who attended the meeting, felt Axworthy’s responses to questioning did not clarify the issue.
“It seemed to me mostly like a political schtick on the part of the administration,” said Penner.
The University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) helped to circulate a “save the arts” petition that had over 2,000 signatures as of Tuesday, March 27, according to UWSA vice-president advocate Tyler Blashko.
Not all students viewed the administration’s choices as unreasonable. Second-year business student Matthew Ernewein sees the need to prioritize some courses over others.
“If they’re not getting numbers, of course they have to cut,” said Ernewein. “Nothing’s really fair but it seems necessary.”
Rumours that administration attempted to bribe the sociology department into releasing the names of students organizing protests circulated last week.
Pearson, Corlett and sociology department chair Kirstin Kramar were shocked to hear of the rumour, and quick to quell students’ concerns.
“We would never do anything like that,” said Kramar.
Published in Volume 66, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 28, 2012)