The Bottom Line

Surplus Could Become One of ConU’s Worst Deficits

Concordia Board of Governors Chair Norman Hébert, Jr approved the university’s $7.5 million deficit on Tuesday. Photo Corey Pool
Concordia President Alan Shepard says the university has yet to receive notice whether the cuts will be permanent or just for this year. Photo Corey Pool

In Quebec, nothing ever happens just once.

The Parti Québécois announced last month that it will cut approximately $13.2 million from Concordia’s operating grant this year, forcing the university’s Board of Governors to scrap a predicted surplus of $600,000.

Instead, the Board was forced to approve a deficit of up to $7.5 million—the third highest in Concordia’s 30-year history.

But the number-one spot is hard to beat.

In 1985, the school suffered a deficit of almost $11 million. Account for inflation and that number soars to over $20 million—by far the worst in Concordia’s history.

And while that deficit makes today’s look puny, the situation is almost identical.

Sweeping provincial cuts, this time from the Liberal Party, hit Concordia hard in the spring of ‘85. The cuts came after the government’s attempts to quietly consider tuition hikes resulted in flooded streets and strike threats.

Eventually, the school bounced back, posted record surpluses and stabilized to seven years of nearly net neutral budgets.

Since 2005, Concordia hasn’t posted a deficit or surplus larger than $20,000. But a politically turbulent year has left the university’s budget in turmoil.

Graphic Julia Wolfe

This is the fourth time in this fiscal year that Concordia has had to revise its budget due to provincial shake-ups; at a Senate meeting on Jan. 25, Concordia’s Chief Financial Officer Patrick Kelley joked that his job might be easier if he based the budget on a random number generator.

It doesn’t help that the school is still unsure about the nature of the cuts. It has not been made clear whether the thinned operating grant is permanent, or only to be in effect for the current fiscal year.

“We are taking this very seriously as a Board. We are responsible for the financial management of the university,” said BoG Chair Norman Hébert, Jr.

“We had a balanced budget going into the year and now, unfortunately, we won’t be able to have that.”

For now, according to Concordia President Alan Shepard, “all eyes are on the summit,” as Quebec universities gear up for the PQ’s summit on higher education scheduled for Feb. 25 and Feb. 26.

But either way, Shepard said, things do not look good.

“This particular cut is part of a larger backdrop which is not just about Quebec, not just about Concordia, but about higher education around the globe,” he said. “These are big global questions that lots of jurisdictions are wrestling with.”