Trimming The Fat

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

February 3, 2009 Ed Cartoon

As companies worldwide downsize in the face of an economic crisis, Western continues to expand, constructing new classrooms and buildings across campus.

Yet Western is hardly excluded from the current recession. With the endowment fund projected to lose $60 million by the end of April and with some faculties considering asking professors to voluntarily donate part of their salaries, the state of the university’s finances is anything but sound.

With construction noise filling the University Community Centre on a daily basis, students may be skeptical about the school’s choices during these tough economic times. Perhaps, as an academic institution, Western’s priority should be funding staff and faculty ahead of any expansion projects.

However, the university’s hands are somewhat tied when it comes to financial priorities. Construction has already begun and stopping it mid-way would mean breaching contracts.

In hindsight, administration should have avoided extending itself so precariously with so many new building projects. Perhaps university President and Vice-Chancellor Paul Davenport was too focused on leaving a legacy and neglected to weigh the financial consequences of building his ideal Western.

At the same time, Western’s construction has created jobs for many Londoners who would likely be otherwise unemployed. During difficult times, the university is offering a much-needed stimulus to the local economy.

If salary cuts are implemented, they should be applied equally across the board " including all levels of staff. If the upper-levels of Western’s administration lead by example, perhaps other employees will be more understanding of a wage decrease.

One option Western could consider is hiring more teaching-only faculty, who tend to have lower salaries. The recession offers an opportunity for change and perhaps the university should rethink its structure. Teaching-only instructors could be hired for first and second-year students, while professors with experience in their field of research would offer valuable insight to upper year students. Western needs to maintain its integrity in research fields, but it also needs to offer a wide variety of classes to its students.

Lower construction costs right now mean the university is making a bold investment in the future. During difficult economic periods, it is important for the university to continue attracting students " and their financial investments. Without its much-needed construction projects, Western’s hope of drawing students and funding will be even lower.

Bold investment could leave Western in a strong position once the economy recovers. Hopefully it does not leave lingering damage instead.

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