Finding Creative Ways to Cut

Administration Seeks Least-Worst Solutions as Funding Woes Plague Concordia

It doesn’t matter who you ask. Pretty much everyone agrees Concordia’s current financial situation is far from ideal.

In December, the Quebec provincial government announced it would be cutting $124 million from the operating budgets of universities across the province.

For Concordia, that amount translated into $13.2 million in reductions this fiscal year, which the university was given no choice but to incur before an April 2013 deadline.

What the school’s Board of Governors had initially calculated to be a $600,000 surplus was unexpectedly transformed into what stands to be up to a $7.5 million deficit—one of the worst in the school’s history.

Since the announcement, Concordia has had to revise its budget for the fifth time this year.

Shuffling funds and reallocating resources to lessen the impact on the Concordia community has proven a trying affair for the school’s administrators, faculty and students, but, while it might be difficult, they will all tell you—they’re doing what they can.

Protecting the Academic Sector

From the get-go, Concordia President Alan Shepard has assured students that the university would do its best to shelter the academic sector—as much as possible—from feeling the blow of the cuts.

“My instructions were to try and minimize the effect on the academic sector—and by minimize I don’t mean take it to zero,” he explained. “That wouldn’t be fair to the other sectors that provide services to our community that are also needed.”

Shepard says that regardless of the school’s best efforts, negative repercussions are, to some degree, inevitable.

“It’s a lot of money,” he said of the cuts. “Every area of the university will feel something—you can’t go through what we’ve gone through in the last year and a half and not have an impact.”

In practice, this effort has manifested itself by way of the academic sector having to soak up only 2.4 per cent of total cuts faced by the university, whereas cuts to administrative sectors will be much higher.

Interim Provost Lisa Ostiguy explained that, in terms of the academic sector, no one faculty was particularly targeted by way of disproportionate cuts in comparison to the others.

“Before the budget reductions, faculties had different budgets allocated to them, so the reductions were based on their current budgets,” she explained
Ostiguy said that she has been in constant communication with the deans of each faculty, working collaboratively to determine how each should allocate cuts.

“Deans, at Academic Cabinet, talked about all of the different ways that we collectively could make some choices around budget reductions, given that each faculty has specific and unique characteristics, “ Ositguy explained.

“Instead of directing faculties to cut in particular ways, we listed a variety of options that faculty could use to make their reductions.”

Academic Plan B

The implementation and progress of the school’s academic plan, which spans across all of the school’s faculties, has also felt the sting of the newfound funding reductions.

Ostiguy assures, however, that it has by no means reached a standstill.

“I wouldn’t say that we have stopped moving forward,” she said. “But I would say that it has caused us to pause and really reflect on the priorities and really reflect on the commitments we can make to move us forward.”

Those priorities, she identifies as contributing to “dynamic and innovative” undergraduate programs, libraries, and graduate recruitment.

But that’s not to say that nothing’s had to give.

“We are a little slower in handing out funding for initiatives,” said Ostiguy.

She says the university hasn’t been able to tangibly identify initiatives that will have to be postponed, since the news from the government is still constantly changing.

FASA Speaks Out

On March 9, the Fine Arts Student Alliance issued a press release in which they formally opposed any cuts to the faculty’s operating budget, fee indexation or any sort of austerity measures.

Furthermore, FASA is currently circulating a petition asking students to sign in solidarity with its opposition to the cuts.

The petition and press release both state that the Fine Arts faculty will see 15 to 20 per cent of its operating budget slashed.

Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota, has clarified that the faculty will only see 15 to 20 per cent of its non-salary and permanent salary budget cut—an amount closer to 2.4 per cent of the faculty’s operating budget.

In an explanation for the discrepancy, FASA’s VP Internal and Communications Jessica Gilbert said in an email to The Link, it was because “the majority of salary budgets are interlocked in collective agreements with full-time and part-time faculty associations.

“These salaries make up the bulk of the budget and cannot be touched,” she added.

Ostiguy explained that the portion of the budget that stands to be cut would include items such as printing and office expenses.

“For Fine Arts it would be the cost for any studio, non-technician oriented kinds of costs that would be involved, supplies—those sort of things.”

Gilbert noted that, “Fine Arts is an expensive department to keep running as most of the operational budgets require depots, workshops, materials, people to run all of these things.”

Ostiguy explicitly noted that no one faculty was being discriminated against.

To date, FASA is the only faculty association that has taken such vocal or formal measures in regards to the cuts.

“I think that [Fine Arts Dean] Catherine [Wild] is not making any choices that are different than in other faculties,” said Ostiguy, in response to FASA’s reaction.

“I think the FASA group is an active group in terms of their involvement and connection to their program, and I think that’s a strength.”

According to an email response, Gilbert says the issue is not so much a question of fairness, but rather of “how and why these cuts are happening.” She said any sort of cuts to the university’s funding are unacceptable.

Furthermore, she added that “the arts are not a sound monetary investment and—not unlike the humanities—these departments are getting smaller and smaller, which is why I think arts students fight so hard.”

FASA is holding an informational general meeting on March 20 from 4:00 pm to 5:45 pm in the VA Building’s lounge to address the issue.

Funding Frustrations

For all involved, the cuts have been frustrating. For Ostiguy, the most difficult part has been the inconsistency of information coming from the government.

“It’s constantly shifting and it’s hard to make plans and work on comparing what needs to happen in different faculties,” she said.

Shepard reiterated Ostiguy’s sentiments, noting that the administration is trying to work with ever-shifting instructions, cuts and concessions from the government.

“We were counting on additional revenue that didn’t come, then we had a mid-year budget cut—we are facing extreme uncertainty in the next year, year and a half,” he said.

Shepard says the university has been promised reinvestment by the 2014-15 year—a promise he hopes is followed through with.

“It’s very welcome and very necessary,” he said. “But the fact remains that in Canada we are still underfunded relative to other jurisdictions and we are trying to compete against those jurisdictions in terms of faculty, for students, bursaries and all directions.”

Ostiguy added, however, that she appreciates the cooperation she has seen on behalf of the Concordia community.

“The faculty staff and students have been extremely cooperative in terms of suggesting what makes sense in terms of our priorities in cutting,” she said.

“If there is a silver lining to all of these budget cuts, I think that it is that there is a lot of goodwill at Concordia to work cooperatively to overcome challenges, and I’ve really appreciated that.”

—with files from Julia Wolfe & Colin Harris