A small congregation of staff and students gathered outside the Alan A. Borger Sr. Executive Conference Room on May 19 to eulogize the University of Manitoba. The mock funeral was held an hour before the University of Manitoba board of governors were scheduled to meet in the Engineering and Information Technology Complex conference room to pass an operating budget and financial plans for the 2015-16 academic year.
This was the latest in a series of rallies since university administration announced a plan to cut faculty and non-academic unit budgets by roughly four per cent across the board last November.
“Education has been sick for a long time—centuries really—and although it made a brief recovery through the 60s and 70s, it has been on a quick and painful decline ever since,” said Naill Harney, treasurer for the Canadian Federation of Students–
Manitoba and a member of the Student Action Network, the organizers of the funeral.
“Today, our university passes a budget so severely toxic that it is fatal to our university’s health. Today, our education has passed away.”
The U of M made $14.4 million in overall budget cuts to the upcoming fiscal year. Of that, $8 million will come from faculties, who were told to find ways to cut four per cent off their bottom line. In turn, the university has budgeted $8.8 million to invest into upgrading classroom and lab technology.
“I think the first death was definitely transparency and democracy on our campus,” said Matthew Brett, one of the organizers of the event. “We still don’t even know what these cuts are going to look like in different faculties and departments, that is not how a university—a public institution—ought to be governed, and we’re not going to stop until we see serious changes.
“We’re not going anywhere. This budget is getting adopted, yes, but we’re still going to fight it every step of the way.”
Lack of consultation and transparency has been an ongoing issue regarding this budget. Mark Hudson, incoming president of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association, said that while administration invited faculty into their discussion on the university’s long-term strategic plan, these massive budget cuts have come as a shock.
“[At no point] when that strategic plan was being discussed within faculties was there any indication that agreement to that strategic plan would result in $14 million-worth of cuts, and $8 million-worth of cuts to just faculties alone,” he said.
Hudson said he would like to see the university adopt a more open model for drafting it’s budgets in the future, with more consultation provided for students and faculty to outline their priorities.
“Municipalities have participatory budgeting models, other universities have participatory budgeting models where there really is consultation. Where there really is unit-level conversations about where are your priorities, where do you want to build, where do you think that there is some room if we need to do cuts,” said Hudson.
“That should obviously include students as well. What do you want? Do you want nice classrooms, or do you want to have a class to choose to take? And I don’t think that there was that kind of consultation.”
International students will likely be the most affected by the new budget, as they will see their tuition fees increasing by 10 to up to 18 per cent. This will cause problems for students already studying at the U of M with a set budget allocated for education. With faculties offering fewer sections for courses offered, there may be headaches for international students trying to meet credit hour criteria required for full-time student visas.
“These cuts are serious, and they have effects on people’s lives. International students, I think, are going to get hit very hard,” said Brett.
Cameron Morrill, an associate professor in the Asper School of Business, offered a poignant illustration of how these cuts will directly affect a student’s access to education at the U of M. Due to last year’s cuts, Morrill said Asper was forced to turn away 224 students from other faculties who were interested in studying accounting.
“We’re going to cut $8.5 million from the faculties who deliver the courses and the programs to our students. And we’re going to spend $8.8 million in renewing the classrooms and laboratories,” Morrill said.
“Pretty classrooms, pretty laboratories—with no students and no professors. I hoped I’d never live to see this.”
Radhika Desai, a professor in the faculty of political studies, said the point of pursuing a post-secondary education has been lost amidst administration’s attempts to cutback.
“Ultimately, the reason to have an education, to keep education alive was never to make more money,” said Desai. “Yes of course it helps societies to become more productive, but not in any sort of direct way. So the more we orientate towards money in all respects, is another instrument—a very blunt one—in which education has been murdered.”
The board of governors passed the 2015-2016 budget, with University of Manitoba Graduate Student Association president Kristjan Mann one of only two voting members objecting. University president David Barnard has said that the university community should expect another round of similar budget cuts next year.