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Ten things to know about the University of Alberta's unprecedented Faculty of Arts cuts

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Below is the text of a memorandum sent by Acting Dean Heather Zwicker to all members of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta earlier today. (Dean Lesley Cormack is on holidays.) The memorandum indicates that the Faculty of Arts is to cut over $5 million cut from its budget for 2013-2014.

Ten points about the current situation:

1. It needs to be generally known that the Faculty of Arts has been progressively cut or shaved down since 2009-2010, the year that departments were forced to cut 50 per cent from their budgets. That year, for lack of anything else of significance to cut, the Department of English & Film Studies had to pull most of its phones out of the wall. It also needs to be known that for the last two years, we have had to cut over $1 million from the Faculty's budget each year. These cuts have resulted in the loss of significant numbers of support staff, along with the closing of faculty lines. Put simply, we have been losing people, lots of them. We have lost people that none of us has ever met because they will never have the opportunity to be our colleagues, and we have lost the people who offered the Faculty's teachers and researchers the support they need to pursue the University's academic mission to the best of their ability. All of this is totally invisible to the public, but we need them to understand that we have already lost far, far too much.

2. Amongst all of the other devastations to the University of which today's announcement for Arts is a part, the cuts to Arts are the canary in the coal mine. The best universities in the world generally have a Faculty of Arts that outranks the institution as a whole. A great university cannot be great, and cannot meet its academic mission, without a great Faculty of Arts. For anyone to think that the Faculty can endure cuts of $5 million and the institution as a whole retain its stature, and continue to grow, would be delusional.

3. With today's memorandum, we are witnessing the evisceration of a great University.

4. A merely administrative response to this situation will not do.

5. Something other than a merely administrative response can only happen through exercises of collegial governance. The Faculty should not wait until October 9th, a full four weeks after the Dean's "State of the Faculty"address on September 11th, and a full six weeks from today, for a meeting of Arts Faculty Council.

6. The Faculty should formally take a stand against the principal driver of these destructive cuts, the Government of Alberta's budget decision of 7 March 2013.

7. For the last week, the Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education has been claiming that the cuts are "cuts of necessity."(See, for example, this report of his declarations from Medicine Hat.) His position from the start of this process, back in the spring, has been to argue for the cuts, rather than defend the institutions comprehended by his portfolio. There was clear evidence of this at the Government's "Estimates" meeting of 10 April 2013.

8. Only those who have succumbed to the "culture of conformity"that Paula Simons so succinctly indicted in her column for the Journal a few days ago can believe that the cuts are "of necessity,"or that our response as a Faculty should simply be to execute them.

9. If the members of the Faculty that hosts the people that, according to the Dean, teach students (amongst other things) how to criticize the policies of government cannot themselves publicly challenge the Government decisions that risk the devastation of the University, who can?

10. Can we not band together to inform this Government of its responsibility to engage in whatever innovation in revenue generation is necessary to extricate the University from this situation? After all, no government of the day -- even one formed by a party that has formed many governments in succession -- is free to risk the devastation of its jurisdiction's institutions simply because it can't bother to find the money. It should be especially not permitted to do so where the money is readily available.

 

The Memorandum

From: Heather Zwicker, Acting Dean

Re: Budget Cuts: Implications for Arts

As you will have seen from President Samarasekera’s communication of last Friday, we must reduce the Faculty of Arts 2013/14 budget by 7% in order to arrive at a balanced budget for 2014/15. There will be an additional 2% reduction in each of the following years. This cut has been applied to all academic units. Administrative units are required to cut 8%/2%/2%.

The Faculty’s budget currently sits at $77m, so we are looking at a reduction of $5.39 million in hard dollars by 1 April 2014.

The Voluntary Severance Program is our first course of action to find these savings. Under the terms of this program, the Faculty is permitted to “cash in” vacated positions at full market value, which means total salary plus benefits (so, 120% of 2013/14 annual salary). Because salaries vary, it is hard to say precisely what number of voluntary severances would deliver the savings we need, but I anticipate that we would require 25-35 VSPs from our AAS:UA complement (360 professors, 4 FSOs and 25 APOs). The Dean’s office is working closely with department Chairs to identify ways of making this transition easier for those who opt in, including provisions like the ability to hold research grants, the possibility to maintain office space if you continue to supervise graduate students and conduct research, and the extension of library privileges. If you would like to explore these or other issues, please discuss them with your department Chair.

There is no doubt that this is a very difficult time for the Faculty of Arts and for the University of Alberta. I am already grieving our losses. The breadth of this Faculty is one of our strengths, and so is our capacity for collegiality. This is going to be a hard year. We are stronger together, and I am grateful, as is Dean Cormack, for your critical thinking, your helpful suggestions and your generosity.

Carolyn Sale is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta.

This article was originally published at Arts Squared. It is reprinted here with permission.

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