Over a month after protests exploded at the University of Winnipeg around projected cuts to tenure track faculty positions, the university’s board of regents approved the 2012-2013 operating budget; a spending blueprint that retains all the controversial cuts.
“It seems to me that the university is balancing two rather noble causes,” said Gabriel Hurley, president of the U of W History Society.
“We are spending a lot of money bringing people into university that couldn’t afford to do it otherwise … However, if you spend that money and aren’t able to offer them the quality of education you promised, they start to wonder whether you’re actually benefiting them.”
The history department is one of several arts departments facing cuts to tenure track faculty positions, with the retirement of professors Garin Burbank and David Topper.
Hurley, who sat on the hiring committee to select a replacement for professor Burbank, said the committee poured over the applications of 100 individuals, anticipating a tenure track hire to teach United States history.
“The day before the history department was set to approve the recommendations of the committee, we got an e-mail from the dean of arts saying the position was cancelled,” he said.
The history department is not alone in facing cuts. Other affected departments in the $110 million operating budget include sociology, modern languages and criminal justice.
Overall, the university is adding 11 tenure track positions, five of which are going to the faculty of arts. The operating budget has also added 11 term instructors, nine of which are going to the arts. These figures do not include positions that were cancelled or not renewed entirely.
Gazel Manuel, president of the Sociology Society, said that many introductory sociology courses have been moved online as a result of department cuts.
“That online intro course, I just think it’s so wrong,” she said, adding that the quality of education has taken a major hit.
Pauline Pearson, president of the University of Winnipeg Faculty Association (UWFA), argues long-term budget planning, with rigorous faculty consultations, is necessary in order to avoid the sudden departmental cuts seen in the operating budget.
“When they knew how much money was coming in, and when they knew what their expenses were … I don’t understand the justification that was given for the cancellation of the faculty hires,” she said, adding that the administration had essentially confirmed which positions would be filled before news of the cuts started rolling in in March.
According to Bill Balan, vice president of finance and administration at the U of W, the budget process works on a schedule conducive to proper hiring practices.
“When those positions are posted, they are posted subject to budgetary approval,” he said, adding that most hires are made in the fall and winter.
Faculty cuts for 2012-2013 were made largely in departments faced with shrinking or stagnant enrolment, Balan added, citing the dissipating class sizes in German studies as one example.
Funding woes and Bill 2
Pearson and Balan agree there is a severe funding disparity between the University of Winnipeg, Brandon University and the University of Manitoba.
Balan argues that this disparity has in part precipitated the cuts seen in the 2012-2013 budget.
Since receiving its charter in 1967, the University of Winnipeg has been given a comparatively low rate of funding among Manitoba post-secondary institutions. While BU and the U of M receive $12,000 per student, the U of W receives just $6,500 per student from the provincial government. This funding is not based on enrolment.
Over the past 10 years, the U of W’s student body has grown by 55 per cent, outpacing the U of M, which saw only 29 per cent growth.
As enrolment goes up, the funding gap widens, according to Balan.
“We’ve been growing at a much faster rate … and part of it has to do with the great emphasis we’ve placed on accessibility, so it’s not an easy issue for us to say we’re going to change feet and now we’re going to shrink, although financially it does make sense for us to consider shrinking,” he said.
“They (the provincial government) should be looking at some sort of enrolment-based granting system, like other provinces have.”
The recent passage of Bill 2, also known as the Protecting Affordability for University Students Act, by the province makes no move toward such a system.
Instead, the Council on Post-secondary Education (COPSE), is required to let university’s know how much funding they will receive in operating grants over three-year periods.
It also gives COPSE the authority to approve or cancel a course-fee increase based on the university’s costs. Additionally, the bill mandates that universities can only increase tuition by the rate of inflation.
“It should be noted that the problem Bill 2 proposes to fix by limiting tuition increases does not exist. University tuition in Manitoba is among the lowest in Canada,” Pearson wrote in a UWFA press release in May.
“It makes sense to leave the authority to set tuition fees with those who actually deliver the goods.”
Article updated on Tuesday, July 3
This article originally stated incorrectly that the University of Winnipeg’s classics department is also facing cuts. In reality, classics has not been affected in this way and has suffered no cuts. The Uniter regrets the error.
Published in Volume 66, Number 28 of The Uniter (June 27, 2012)