The UM Board of Governors recently passed the 2017-18 budget. Below is a modified version of a letter that was sent to the University President from outgoing-UMFA-President Mark Hudson. It covers some of the highlights of, and problems with, that budget.

 

Budget Highs and Lows – a reflection on the UM Budget, 2017-18

UMFA welcomes the increases in baseline and one-time funding to faculties and libraries, which have suffered heavily over the last several years of successive cuts. We look forward to seeing these new funds used to advance the core, public mission of the University, and to helping alleviate some of the stresses that have arisen among professors, librarians, and instructors as the complement of UMFA Members has dwindled.

We further wish to congratulate the administration on the fact that over the past three years, budget documents have become more clear and transparent, enabling comparison across budget years. 

While the increases this year are indeed a promising sign, UMFA believes that as a community, we must reckon with the depth of the cuts inflicted so far, and recognize that this year’s boosts represent only one step toward renewal. The announced increases to baseline for faculties, colleges, and libraries replace 70% of last year’s cut, and are the first increase to baseline budgets for five years. Even with this year’s increases, faculties, libraries, and colleges remain $20.5 million below 2012-13 funding levels. We therefore note with optimism the administration’s commitment to press government at all levels to adequately fund post-secondary education in the province.

We also greatly appreciate that some of the budgeted increases will go towards renewing the faculty complement. The $0.8 million for targeted faculty hires and $3.6 million for faculty and support staff renewal in academic units is hugely welcome relief and will help our members to better undertake their important roles as teachers, researchers, and scholars.  On the back-of-the-envelope, we hope to see 44 positions or so filled given this commitment. Again, however, it is worth noting in the midst of the celebrations that, according to our attrition data at UMFA, since 2014 our community has experienced a net loss of 117 UMFA Members.

The university’s current capacity to fund baseline and one-time increases has been created by squeezing librarians, instructors, and professors, and through the erosion of their conditions of work—which are also the conditions of learning for our students. We are thus keenly interested to ensure that the budgeted increases are used to begin alleviating this. We appreciate this first step on the road, and look forward to rebuilding our complement in future years such that accreditations are ensured, supervisory and service work is more widely shared, classes are offered with sufficient frequency and diversity to ensure that students get what they need, and our faculty have the time to do all aspects of their work according the high standards they set for themselves.    

With regard to this, UMFA views with considerable concern the priority given to capital projects in the current budget, relative to renewal of the operating budgets for faculties, colleges, and libraries. The budgeted transfer from operating to capital increased steeply in 2016-17 (from $27 million the year previous to $48 million) and remains high ($42 million) for 2017-18. More of these funds should be committed to repairing the loss of faculty positions suffered over the past three years. To use funds saved from wage freezes for anything but staffing is unacceptable. 

We note also President Barnard’s recognition that some of the flexibility in this year’s budget originates with the University’s inability to provide competitive and fair salaries for its employees. This inability derives from the “public sector wage pause” enshrined in Bill 28. 

UMFA is disappointed that the University makes no comment on the irreparable harm that this legislation is certain to visit upon our community. With salary levels already below those of our peer institutions, two years of zero increases followed by two years of increases well below inflation are likely to make it extraordinarily difficult to attract excellent new scholars, or to retain those already here.

There is no doubt that should Bill 28 become law, our community will suffer the loss of some of our best and most promising researchers and teachers. The public needs to be made aware of the lasting damage threatened by Bill 28, particularly at this critical moment, since the legislation has not yet been proclaimed, and is as a consequence not in effect. To be perfectly clear, at the moment, there is no inability to increase salary or other forms of compensation under the law—there is only the threat.

Manitoba labour and community members lined up to testify against the legislation, citing its highly dubious constitutionality, its infringement on the autonomy of the universities, its sledgehammer approach to dealing with provincial finances, and the very significant damage it is sure to do to many of Manitoba’s public institutions, including its universities. We noted with disappointment, however, the absence of the leadership of those same public institutions at the hearings, or otherwise in the public eye.  

We hope that we are able to meet the challenges ahead with a unified voice in defense of UM’s critical role in our province. UMFA is encouraged at this budget’s reaffirmation that the heart and soul of our university resides in its faculties, colleges, and libraries. It is good to see the beginning of renewal of financial support that will facilitate excellent teaching and research. 

At the same time, it needs to be recognized that UMFA Members have been bearing the brunt of the cuts over the past four or five years.  Addressing these challenges requires that we make funding the ongoing renewal of our faculty complement the University’s highest priority.

The 2017-2018 UM Budget is available on pages 16-33 of the Board of Governors May 23 agenda