Getting creative in the face of budget cuts

Arts and Science embrace frugality amidst departmental cutbacks

Alistair MacLean
Image by: Tyler Ball
Alistair MacLean

Departments within the Faculty of Arts and Science are feeling the budget crunch as they prepare for faculty-wide cutbacks of 15 per cent per faculty over the next three years.

Alistair MacLean, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, said departments will have to cut an additional three per cent over three years to contribute to the “progress through the ranks” (PTR) tax.

MacLean said the PTR tax is intended to compensate for the effects of the retirement of high-salary faculty members and the hiring of new faculty members at lower salaries.

In an e-mail to the Journal, MacLean said there is another two per cent budget cut effective at the start of the next school year, bringing the total to 20 per cent by the 2011-2012 academic year.

“The Faculty of Arts and Science has used funds already committed to other uses to fund exiting operations.  These funds have to be recouped.  In addition there are some known incremental costs which have to be funded, including increases in some adjunct faculty salaries, and long-term funding for tenured positions which initially only had short term financing.”

MacLean said these pressures are not exclusive to the Faculty of Arts and Science, which runs a yearly budget of $70 million.

“Because of the ways the other faculty deans decided to manage the cuts this year, this is what makes Arts and Science stand out amongst the other faculties.”

MacLean said the individual departments haven’t been given exact figures regarding how much they will have to decrease their budgets.

“We’re still working on what the cuts will be for individual departments,” he said. “The cuts are not necessarily going to be distributed equally amongst all departments across the three years.”

MacLean said that the exact figures are still premature and will not be finalized until the official numbers are released.

“For most departments, it should be in the order of two to three per cent in the first year. The rest of that will be made up from the faculty,” he said. Overall, this will be something to the order of five to six per cent in the first year.”

Some departments are taking action by appealing to their students for input on where these cuts should be made. The department of history has done this through a mass e-mail, which was sent to all history concentrators on Jan. 6. The e-mail asked for students to provide feedback regarding the idea of eliminating the seminar component to the first year HIST 121, 122 and 124 courses.

“We’re looking at ways that we can deal with this by creating minimal damage to the courses. One potential way to do that is in our first year courses. History has managed to maintain this and is unusual, if not unique, in having seminar sections in the first year courses taught by not TAs but by senior teaching staff,” said acting head of the department Richard Greenfield.

He said these proposed changes likely wouldn’t take effect until next year.

“The biggest uncertainties for 2010 to 2011 and 2011 to 2012 because if the cuts do go ahead as we’ve been told they will, then taking 15 to 18 per cent out of the budget over those two [academic] years would be completely devastating,” he said. “Potentially, there are other changes that will have to be made certainly in the next two or three years. I would suggest that our second year seminars are under threat, that’s another obvious place. The size of seminars may well have to rise.”

Greenfield said the maximum size lecture class within the department of history is capped at 130 people. The third- and fourth-year seminar courses have a typical enrollment in the low 20s.

Greenfield said he is concerned about the damage the cutbacks will do to the overall quality of education at Queen’s in the future.

“I see I have to say I have serious concerns about what’s caused this. Some of this is undoubtedly government underfunding, that’s a major issue. That’s where these cuts came from originally,” he said. “Some of it also has to do with the current economy. Some of it is unquestionably due to serious mismanagement by the central administration in terms of the funding of building projects and the pension fund and the costs that is having on the everyday operation budget.”

The department of film and media also addressed their current financial situation with its students at an open forum meeting, held on Jan. 9.

“The impression I got from the meeting was that students are not aware of this situation. They know that there are budget cuts, but they do not know the extent of this,” Clarke Mackey, head of the film and media department, said.

Mackey said his department, which is running on a budget of $155,000, will also have to resort to larger class sizes in order to balance the books.

“It seems to me that FILM 110 will have to become a lecture based course, he said. “Without that kind of small group interaction, it will diminish the quality of education the students get to experience.”

Mackey said the department will also have to cut spending on technology.

“We have an equipment purchasing budget and an equipment maintenance budget. I don’t see how they could remain with the cuts,” he said.

As a result of the cutbacks, once the department’s current supply of cameras are no longer working, there will be not enough money in the budget to replace them.

“People at the meeting were saying, ‘That’s why we came to film at Queen’s because we knew we would have hands-on experience’ and now that might be gone in a few years,” he said. “We’ve had these cameras for a couple of years, so we will probably have another four years out of them.”

Mackey said he is concerned about how his small department is going to avoid being in the red after three years of budget cuts.

“If in fact we are going to be faced with a 20 per cent cut, the film and media department’s operation budget would be in the hole $30,000 after the end of the three years.”

Anne Godlewska, head of the department of geography said she doesn’t believe the students should be consulted for their input on how to deal with the cut in funding.

“I just don’t see how they could help,” she said. “The cuts are so large that it’s hard for me to know how to do it, and I can see the budget. They can’t even see it.” Godlewska said the biggest change to the department would be the loss of or decrease in the number of TAs. Although the TAs would be provided with alternate jobs as research assistants, the undergraduate students would be affected, and the faculty would feel the loss, she said.

“Arguably the faculty will be doing more of the marking themselves than they have been doing in the recent past,” she said. “But part of that equation to the University is that it means that faculty are going to be spending a lot more time doing things like marking and less time arguably perhaps preparing courses and certainly less time doing research.”

Acting head of the department of physics, Mark Dingham said he doesn’t see how a cut in the department budget would even be feasible at this point.

“If you look at what’s left, only about 20 per cent of that is disposable. That 20 per cent pays for TAs. That pays for things like laboratory equipment, staff salaries, any sort of renovations that we need to do, adjunct teaching. All of that comes out of that budget.” Dingham said he hopes students understand the gravity of the situation.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the future. I think it’s important that students realize that if these budget cuts really have to go through, it’s going to decimate departments and put us in extremely rough shape.”

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