‘Where does the money go?’ Students, faculty members rally for budget transparency ahead of cuts

by Marc Lagace

For the second time this year, University of Manitoba students and faculty rallied together to protest upcoming budget cuts to faculties and non-academic services for the 2015-16 academic year.

A large, energized crowd made up of university students, faculty, researchers and support services employees congregated in the Engineering Atrium on April 1. With chants of  “We want an education, not a corporation” and “Where does the money go? We want to know!” the boisterous group marched around campus, eventually winding up just outside a building where the university senate was scheduled to be meeting.

“We want to send a message to the administration that we want to be part of the conversation,” said Zach Fleisher, Canadian Federation of Students–Manitoba chairperson.

Back in November, U of M president David Barnard announced budget cuts across the board, telling all faculties and non-academic departments to plan for spending cuts of four per cent across the board.

“We don’t know what these cuts are going to bring. I personally don’t want to see them go through, and I think that there’s a much broader narrative in terms of really focusing on the needs of the institution and the community that we could be focusing on instead these cuts,” said Fleisher.

The UMGSA was one of four advocacy groups who endorsed the rally. Executive members arrived early to hand out signs before the rally and lead the crowd in chants as they marched around campus.

UMGSA president Laura Rempel was one of seven speakers who addressed the crowd before the march began. Rempel focused on how the cuts would affect graduate students and raised her concerns about where the university administration’s priorities lie in regards to the proposed cuts.

“Austerity measures are becoming the norm at the top research universities in Canada, whether in the form of budget cuts, increased tuition, or negotiating for a living wage,” said Rempel. “We need to talk about priorities of all students and staff on campus, not just statistics comparing us to other, and very different, U15 research universities.”

Rempel says the cuts will breed competition for scares resources, instead of collaboration between departments, which will lead to increased stress and workloads for staff. That’s a reality already being felt by some university employees, as AESES president Laurie Morris confirmed that 26 jobs have already been lost, with more expected once the budget is passed.

“Twenty-six people translates to over 45,000 working hours in a year. That means that somebody needs to do those jobs, which means they will be overburdened and stressed. There’s going to be more sick leave, and that’s going to affect services, and especially the students.”

Fleisher agreed with Morris’s concerns.

“We shouldn’t be having staff members going to work unsure as to whether their job is going to exist next month.  That’s not a culture that we want to create here,” said Fleisher. “We want to see a change in that and we want to see a more open, collaborative and democratic institution.”

As the rally marched across campus, The Gradzette had an opportunity to speak with current UMGSA VP academic and president-elect Kristjan Mann. He says graduate students should be concerned about cuts to departmental funding, reduced teaching assistant positions and changes to credit hour requirements for degree programs, including master’s and doctoral programs.

“What that means in the end is that students are paying more for class and having to work more hours as TAs for less money because of larger class of students.”
Mann is also concerned about administration budgets increasing at twice the rate of academic budgets, which he says is a troubling national trend. He’d also like to see increased support from the provincial government to manage the budget.

“[The U of M] is a public institution and receives public funding and we feel that it should represent public interest. Not just the interest of the administration, who perhaps see it as a way to increase their business skillset,” said Mann.

“It doesn’t need to be run like a corporation, it’s a public institution. While we still have certain aspects of it that are similar to businesses, at the same time you can’t run it like any other business.”

Mann said while he recognizes the importance of keeping up the pressure on campus, he would like to see future rallies organized at the Manitoba Legislature to put more pressure on the provincial government – especially given the upcoming provincial election.

“It’s been 10 years since there’s been a provincial increase over and above the rate of inflation for the University of Manitoba. From what I’ve heard, the U of Winnipeg are in talks for increasing their provincial budget, and I’d like to see something similar happen to the U of M.”

The budget for the 2015-16 academic year will be released in late May.

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