Editorial: Concordia Needs to Take a Stance on Austerity

  • Graphic Graeme Shorten Adams

The result of austerity measures recently imposed by the provincial government is clear.

Budgets are being slashed left and right in what universities are calling the worst cuts made to the sector—ever. At least $25 million more than the originally announced $172 million in budget cuts is what it amounts to, La Presse reported.

How they will affect each institution, though, remains unclear.

The English Montreal School Board said it wouldn’t comply with the government’s request that it trim $2.3 million from its $280-million budget, but education minister Yves Bolduc said the government would remain “firm” with the cuts.

Université de Sherbrooke, Université de Montréal and Université du Québec à Montréal have all deplored the government’s harsh actions, which in total are more than twice the $123 million in cuts to university budgets the Parti Québécois had proposed the year before. (Premier Philippe Couillard had himself condemned the PQ’s budget and the lack of funding for universities.)

Concordia hasn’t joined the other education institutions in their position.

Concordia’s response, as we learned last month, was to make cuts in its administration, claiming it would largely bypass the potential effects on academics and research.

Concordia President Alan Shepard was honest about the university’s solution to cut 180 positions and its relation to the budget cuts. But he’s working within ridiculous parameters set out by the provincial government.

“It wouldn’t be my style to just say, ‘No, I won’t do it.’ I might say, ‘It’s very difficult.’ I might lobby them to reconsider, but I don’t want to do that in a provocative, public way,” Shepard told The Link when asked to comment on whether or not the university would publicly condemn the austerity measures.

We’d love to see Shepard take a step not so outside-the-box considering the vocal positions of other Quebec universities.

Concordia is subtly encouraging 180 full-time, unionized employees who have worked at the university for 10 or more years to leave voluntarily, enticing them to do so with severance packages that may resemble a year’s pay, depending on position and seniority.

What’s more, Shepard said at the press conference announcing the program that a “number of those—maybe 20, 25, 30—will be in positions of something that is critical. You can’t do without that, so we’ll have to re-hire in those roles.”

In other words, in the process of replacing senior, well-paid employees with new hires, we’ll lose some of the Concordia staff members with the most institutional knowledge. It feels like a band-aid solution.

We can’t blame the school for making the decision, but it feels like there’s a lack of transparency about how bad the situation truly is.

What else could the university do? Cut teaching positions? Teaching assistant positions are already being cut because their lowest pay grade was eliminated, meaning each TA’s salary would cost the university more than it did previously at a time of fiscal restraint.

From the outside, the Voluntary Departure Program resembles a trimming of the bureaucracy. But it’s foolhardy to assume academics won’t be affected by the increased cuts.

Sustainable Concordia was one of the first groups at the university to denounce the program in response to the new sustainable transportation coordinator position being cut almost as quickly as it was introduced.

In the lead up to ASSÉ’s protest against austerity on Oct. 31, more student groups will be voting on whether or not to join the condemnation of the austerity measures. Five student faculties at the Université de Montréal have already voted to join the strike, and it’s likely Concordia students will soon join them. We believe the university should follow suit, and openly protest the enormous migraine it was given by the government.

If the Voluntary Departure Program doesn’t satisfy the budgetary compressions, the next place the university will look to tighten their belt is the educational sector. Registration rates continue to climb, as people avoid hitting the treacherous job market, and if funding doesn’t grow to match it, the decline of our quality of education is inevitable.

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