Western braces itself for budget cuts

Faculties asked to trim budgets by 5.5 per cent

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Western’s bank account has taken a wallop from the recent global economic crisis and university brass are now calling for sweeping budget cuts across all faculties.

Western’s fund reserve is projected to lose $60 million by April 30 and its endowments are now worth $17.6 million less than their original value, according to university estimates.

Endowments " donations to the school that are invested in order to produce excess money " are a primary source of funds for the university. In the past they have been used to fund student scholarships, awards and bursaries as well as the salaries and benefits of tenured faculty.

Western revealed its economic hardship in a five-page letter sent on Wednesday to all staff, signed by Western President and Vice-Chancellor Paul Davenport and the school’s four vice-presidents.

“The economic downturn of the last several months has placed the university under significant financial pressures,” the letter said.

“Our goal is to minimize the impact of these reductions through normal attrition, retirements, the potential for flexible employment arrangements and careful scrutiny of the filling of current and future vacancies.”

The budget update outlines several initiatives the university plans to set in motion in order to counteract its significant losses.

Construction on the Physics & Astronomy Building " set to begin in the coming months " will be halted. However, all other campus construction will go ahead as planned.

Administration also called for all faculty budgets to be reduced by 5.5 per cent in each of the next two years. Additionally, a vice-president must approve all faculty and staff appointments. Only hirings that the university considers to be “mission critical” will be approved.

Although it is not mentioned in the letter, layoffs could quickly become a reality for Western faculties that will have to trim every nickel and dime available from their budgets.

“Laying off faculty is not an easy thing to do and we’re going to try to minimize the human resource effects,” said Jim Weese, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences. “We’re going to look at all of our other options before we head down that path.

“It’s a very challenging time for us ... we’re going to go through a major budget reduction. We’re looking at everything that we spend from a mission critical perspective.”

Weese also confirmed that although the university has agreed to pay professors with endowed contracts through to the end of this year, the Faculty of Health Sciences will have to dip into its operating accounts to cover next year’s salaries.

According to University of Western Ontario Faculty Association President Mike Carroll, Western is overlooking critical areas where money could be saved.

“There’s an awful lot of new construction that has not started yet but has still been authorized,” Carroll stated.

“All this construction is going on at a time when revenues are beginning to evaporate and it has not been established that cutting staff is a better way to address the shortfall than putting a pause on all new buildings.”

Carroll cited the renovation of the Stevenson-Lawson Building, Talbot Theatre and the University Community Centre as instances where the university could save money by holding off on construction.

“The renovation to convert the UCC to classroom space is going ahead even though it’s not entirely clear why we need that extra classroom space.

“Our view is that the first reaction should be to put a pause on all new construction. The notion that the response to the budgetary crisis has to be cutting faculty salaries or cutting positions simply has not been established.”

A Western graduate student who requested anonymity said he expects to enter a tough job market but is determined to get a job in academia after spending five years and thousands of dollars earning a PhD.

“A good academic job is hard to come by any year,” the student said. “[Western] is one university in a vast market ... hopefully there are some institutions whose budget depends less on the vagaries of the financial market.”

Share this article on:

Facebook | DiggDigg |

Copyright © 2008 The Gazette