Jan. 04, 2012 - Issue #846: Year in review
World-class budget problems
The University of Alberta Faculty of Arts has nothing left to cutFor a thriving institution like the University of Alberta, $1.5 million sounds like a paltry number in the grand scheme of things. Just this year, the U of A opened two state-of-the-art buildings—the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, priced at nearly half a billion dollars, and the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy, which cost more than $900 million. And University President Indira Samarasekera earned more than $1 million in 2011, making her one of the highest-paid university officials in Canada. But for the University's Faculty of Arts, $1.5 million represents a dire deficit that is forcing the faculty to make ends meet and challenging the University’s longstanding pro-arts rhetoric.
When the U of A announced last April that all faculties would have to slash their budgets by two percent due to a zero percent increase in operating revenue from the provincial government, the arts faculty was hit particularly hard due to lower revenue generation. Just the year prior, a faculty-wide five percent budget cut infamously forced arts departments to rid faculty and staff of their office phones.
But this year, with nowhere else to go, the arts faculty has turned its focus to one of its last options: support staff—15 of them, to be exact. Figuring out which positions to cut is part of a painstaking initiative the faculty calls the Administrative Process Review Project (AdPReP).
AdPReP's aim is to examine five administrative functions within departments and the dean's office—human resources, budget, finance and procurement, undergraduate advising and grad administration. Dean of Arts Lesley Cormack explains that the process is designed to "improve, eliminate, or completely re-design these administrative processes to increase efficiency and effectiveness."
Because of the nature of AdPReP, numerous support staff are apprehensive to share their criticism of the process over fear that their jobs will be targeted. One arts faculty support staff member who asked to not be identified says the paranoia and stress within the admin staff is rampant and that counselors have been brought in to help.
Corrinne Harol, associate chair of graduate studies in the English department, confirmed that claim in a letter to the dean, in which she revealed that staff have been living in an atmosphere of "fear, secrecy, gossip, and threat for months," adding that their health and wellness has been "unnecessarily impinged upon."
"It’s been very stressful for the staff, which is not good," says Harrol. "The problem is we don't know who they're going to cut and how they're going to reconfigure things, so we really don’t know how things are going to change."
The process, which has been in the works since this past summer, has taken this long because interviewers are faced with the impossible task of trying to make sense out of all the responses, according to the support staff member. Five teams led by an external consultant have conducted about 85 interviews with various support staff throughout all arts departments. Questionnaires have also been administered to support staff, which some staff have criticized for failing to recognize department-specific duties.
"This is not about efficiencies, it's about a $1.5 million deficit and cutting positions," the support staff member says. "When the Faculty of Arts abolishes the equivalent of one position in every department, some people will be left with doing the job of two or three people. To me, that sounds like a recipe for inefficiency."
It's not only faculty and staff who have expressed dismay over AdPReP—students have formed a prominent solidarity movement in order to encourage reform in the process. One of the coalition’s initial objections was the lack of student and staff consultation, which lead Dean Cormack to hastily arrange a forum last November in order to clear misconceptions.
"(Provost Carl Amrhein) would remind you all the cuts we are experiencing are a result of the collective bargaining happening last year," Cormack said to the packed audience at the forum, referring to the 1.75 percent salary increase that academic staff voted on last summer. "For Dean Cormack to stand to a packed house and proclaim that the Faculty of Arts is in the financial hole due to negotiated salary increases is disturbing," the support staff member refutes. "The collective gasp that went through the room was clear."
When asked about criticism regarding the lack of student consultation, Cormack says she disagrees with the claim. "I worked very hard to make sure all of those (consulting) bodies were both informed and were given a chance to really debate the issues. Those groups do have student participation on them," Cormack says. "This process is really about how we do particular internal processes. It's not clear to me that every student needs to be concerned about that. The goal would be that it would be largely invisible to students. I don't feel that I want to fear-monger by having a huge consultation about things like that."
The coalition realizes that consultation may be too late for the process, as the final administrative support structure is set to be announced in February. As a result, the coalition is shifting its focus to the next budget cut in April, which will slash another two percent in all faculty budgets, leaving the arts faculty in a spiraling financial crisis that could result in the elimination of programs or departments. "What we hope to accomplish is a cultural shift—not only to change this process, but to change the administrative culture for upcoming budget cuts," says Brent Epperson, a member of the coalition. "We want to change the way these things are addressed and the way solutions are sought."
Part of those changes include prioritizing revenue generation, making the process more transparent in order to encourage alternative solutions, and forming a more complete stakeholder analysis. "You read the project charter and you see who are the major stakeholders and they're all upper-level administrators," Epperson says. "That's really a distortion of the stakeholder concept because a major stakeholder is the one who has the most to lose or gain by a process."
Corrinne Harol says her ultimate goal as an arts professor and chair is not to point fingers, but to find feasible solutions and make a case for arts funding to the U of A administration and provincial government. "We need to make the case that the arts faculty can't withstand the same type of budget cuts that other faculties can withstand," she says. "It's such a small amount compared to the kinds of things that cost the university.”
"One of things about the top universities is that they all have strong departments in the arts," Harrol adds. "If you want to be a world-class university, you have to have decent arts." vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
Vue respects your privacy. We will not forward your personal information to any other organization except as required by law, and will use your e-mail address only to respond to your comments. We reserve the right to edit and remove comments for length, clarity and/or if they are illegal or inappropriate. Your email address is never shown to visitors to vueweekly.com. Read the whole policy at: http://vueweekly.com/privacy