Students Concerned About UofG's Proposed Budget

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Written by Hannah Draper

In November, I submitted an article to the Ontarion about the University of Guelph’s budget development process and the 2% budget cuts that are being made across all Colleges and Departments beginning next year. The piece outlined many of the concerns that students continue to have about the supposed consultative process through which this University develops its annual operating budget. In this piece, I will outline some of the points that I highlighted in my previous article and hopefully provide some more information and updates about them.

The 2004/05 academic year saw a university-wide 4.5% budget cut and this year the University community has endured an additional 3.5% budget reduction. These budget cuts are leaving a negative impact in the classroom, are resulting in increased residence and meal plan fees, and are aggravating the existing issue of deferred maintenance.

This year, all units were again asked to make 2% cuts from their budgets for each of the next five years. The effect these cuts will have to the already eroded quality of our education is devastating. These budget cuts mean ever-increasing class sizes, more reliance on corporate funding and increased workloads for campus labour groups - resulting in a decrease in the overall quality of our educational experience at a campus that is already dirty, short-staffed and physically falling apart. Since the University has announced that tuition fees will be increasing again next fall students are left, yet again, in a position where they are paying more for less.

The University is supposedly asking all units to make these cuts to offset "inflationary costs." However, the rate of inflation is currently 1.9% but it has been as high as 2.7% as recently as 2000. Students do not understand why for the first time, units are being asked to make these cuts, especially after the provincial government announced last April that $285 million in additional funding will be made available to post-secondary institutions.

It is rumoured that these cuts are being proposed this year so that funding can be directed into the development of the new Faculty of Environmental Science, the new College of Management & Economics (CME) and eventually a new College of Engineering.

It is unfortunate that the University is expecting all students to suffer from the impact of these cuts in order to initiate these new projects. While these programs were in need of restructuring, it should not come off of the backs of other students that are going into massive debt to afford a post-secondary education of already declining quality.

It is also alarming that when the creation of both the new Faculty of Environmental Science and the CME were approved at Senate no budgetary information was presented about either of them. It seems very backwards that the University should go ahead with two very expensive projects without any (public) plan about how to finance them. Given the context of yet another very lean fiscal year for the University of Guelph community, I think that this serves as especially good reason to be concerned about the University’s budgeting process.

In addition to being upset over the effect these cuts would have to the already eroded quality of their education students are very offended by the deceptive student-consultation process coordinated by the University.

Every year, the University strikes a committee called the Student Budget Advisory Group (SBAG) that is comprised of students from various student governments to give student recommendations on the University's operating budget. By November this committee had just started meeting on a regular basis. At the same time, departments’ integrated plans, including consideration of the above-mentioned 2% cuts, were already due.

In November, I wrote that:

While the University has led on students to believe that they might actually have an opportunity to impact the budgeting process this is … not the case… [The] consultation process is a sham that allows the University to look like it has used due diligence to consult the students of this campus. In the end students' hard work, research and recommendations for the budget won't make a difference.”

Now, upon release of the University’s 2006/07 tuition framework and preliminary budget, this proves to be exactly the case. Students, including student governments, and SBAG, were informed about these decisions after they were already made, at the same time as the rest as the public.

The minimal role of students in significant budgetary decisions is further exemplified by the recent announcement of the cancellation of a project intended to improve bus access to the UC. This cost of this project was budgeted at $700,000. Until it was announced that this project was being cancelled, students were unaware of its very existence. Students are also concerned about what other similar projects are underway.

I believe that students deserve to be fairly consulted on the budgeting process before budget decisions are made. The budgeting process is one that affects every student and every department on this campus and it is something that should be openly discussed and debated among members of the university community. We have been totally left out of the loop and there appears to be a lot going on behind closed doors.

Next Thursday, April 20th, the University of Guelph’s 2006/07 operating budget will be passed by the Board of Governors (BoG). This meeting was scheduled in violation of the BoG’s bylaws, which clearly stated in which months regular BoG meetings are to be scheduled (of which April is not one of them). After this “scheduling error” was brought to the attention of the BoG there was not only no attempt made to move the date of this meeting but the bylaws that state when meetings are to be set were changed.

It is extremely upsetting that the BoG has chosen to go ahead with a date for a meeting where it will be passing a budget that will significantly impact students, at the very end of exams -- a time when most students have already left campus, and when the ones that are left are busy with studying, finding summer work, housing etc. It is further distressing to consider what other bylaws the BoG is breaking, since its members were so unapologetically willing to break this one.

Students and other members of this community need to let the university administration know that sacrificing the quality of our education is unacceptable. The administration needs to know that developing the university’s operating budget without adequate consultation is unacceptable. The administration needs to understand that tuition fee increases, especially in an environment of constant cuts, is unacceptable. The administration needs to know that the way things are, have been, and continue to be, is unacceptable and it is high time that students start standing up for themselves and demanding their right to a quality and accessible education.

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