Executive Position on Budget Cuts April 13, 2009

Dear QUFA Members:

Across campus, there is a growing consensus that, independent of the current recession, the Board of Trustees and Administration have failed in their responsibility to provide Queen’s with the ability to function and flourish as a university. Substantial money has been lost to capital cost overruns and to changes in accounting procedures, both of which have had a dramatic impact on the operating budget. These losses have been compounded by the larger economic situation, though the Board of Trustees and Administration seem to wish to mask the former by solely referencing the latter.

In response to the current economic situation, the Administration has introduced cuts that will seriously damage the learning environment and the intellectual integrity of this university. These cuts have been introduced in the absence of long-term academic planning in a number of faculties. The Faculty of Arts and Science, for instance, has no long-term strategic plan. On what grounds then can decisions about cuts be made?

Board and administrative decisions are being driven by economic factors and show little regard for the academic mission of the university. In recent days, the only nod to academic considerations has been a 13-page discussion paper that deals in generalities. Drafted by the Vice-Principal Academic, the paper redefines quality on the basis of economic rather than academic considerations.

The Board and Administration have ignored the enormous economic strengths of Queen’s University. We have the highest credit rating of all Canadian universities. Our endowment recently approached $500,000,000. We have enviable property holdings that could be leveraged against the losses incurred through overspending and accrued paper losses. But we have recently been told that the Board has decided to defer any consideration of property leveraging until the fall. This action sends a clear message that the Board believes that the University’s properties are more important than its academic mission. The Board’s refusal to engage in meaningful deficit financing as other universities like Toronto, Western and McGill have done, is a further “choice” to focus on the financial at the expense of the academic. Queen’s is being managed not as a university and a public trust but as a corporation.

Many QUFA members have requested clarification of the potential implications of a motion which passed with a vast majority at the Arts & Science Faculty Board meeting on April 3. The motion requires the Dean to follow established Faculty procedures in seeking to make any substantial changes to curriculum or programs. This motion was presented as a response to the Dean’s attempt to suspend programs without allowing academic units and the Faculty Curriculum Committee their proper role in the process.

QUFA wishes to confirm its strong opposition to these suspensions. Members of the QUFA Executive and the QUFA Political Action and Communications Committee were instrumental in drafting and supporting the motion. While the procedural issue has been addressed in Arts and Science—and was accepted as entirely valid by Dean MacLean—severe financial issues remain. Should money be withdrawn from programs, their ability to function will be effectively “suspended.” This means that QUFA members need to make the strongest possible case, individually and collectively, that appropriate funding be restored to threatened programs and maintained for all programs until meaningful long-term academic planning has been carried out. And we need to make this case at all levels: at our departments/units, at faculty boards and at the Senate.

In our meetings with the Administration through the JCAA (Joint Committee to Administer the Agreement), QUFA has been arguing that the panic-driven approach to the current situation will only produce more crises in the future. We have been emphasizing the need for long-term academic planning that is inclusive of and drawn from faculty expertise on campus. We have also underscored the fact that the new Collective Agreement has a Memorandum of Agreement for a joint committee to review the current salary model. And, since the end of mandatory retirement, QUFA has been asking the Administration for some form of a retirement incentive plan. And we will continue to push all these issues.

The employment implications of the Board’s proposed budget decisions are enormous in terms of everything from working conditions to job security. It is the position of the QUFA Executive that the Queen’s Board of Trustees and Administration have the responsibility, as custodians of one of the leading academic institutions in Canada, to provide the financial means for Queen’s to fulfill its academic mission. More precisely, before any cuts are implemented, both the Board and the Administration must take steps to develop a campus-wide academic plan that will allow thoughtful differentiation between units, that will honour the intellectual integrity of this university and protect the academic mission of Queen’s. With the collaboration of faculty, staff and students, such a plan could be developed over the next few months. This is not a request for a lengthy deferral on the economic front. It is a recognition that a solid academic plan is required to provide the means by which difficult financial decisions can be made with the least amount of long-term harm.

The QUFA Executive Committee
April 13, 2009

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2009.04.14