Electrical engineering loses $250,000 in cuts

Decreased budget, low enrollment cause applied science to offer incentives for voluntary resignation

Steven Blostein, head of the electrical and computer engineering department, says budget cuts will have negative long-term implications for the program.
Steven Blostein, head of the electrical and computer engineering department, says budget cuts will have negative long-term implications for the program.

The Faculty of Applied Science is encouraging faculty from the electrical and computer engineering department to leave voluntarily with financial compensation.

The program was announced at the faculty board on Sept. 19. Dean of Applied Science Kimberly Woodhouse wouldn’t comment on the program or how it will work.

“I’m in the process of talking to the stakeholders who are in this,” she said.

The program is one way the department is dealing with University-wide budget cuts.

Steven Blostein, head of the electrical and computer engineering department, said smaller departments such as his were hit hardest by the 4.5 per cent faculty-wide cut.

“The departments that have relatively lower costs—so, fewer faculty and staff compared to students—got cut very little and those with higher ratios were cut more,” Blostein said.

The department experienced rapid growth in the last several years, with an entrance of 220 students in 2002.

The growth resulted in the hiring of new professors.

“We basically doubled in our enrollment, [but] now we’ve gone right down again to even lower than before,” Blostein said.

About 60 students are enrolled in the department this year.

Blostein said two-thirds of the faculty members were hired in the last seven years and it’s difficult to imagine them wanting to leave.

“We don’t have many people who are near retirement so it’s sort of hard to imagine what the uptake [of the program] would be,” he said.

Having faculty members leave could create a problem for the department, Blostein said.

“We’re considered to have a relatively large number of faculty [but] they’re still not evenly distributed and we have certain key areas that we would not want to lose people in,” he said.

Several professors from the department were contacted and said they haven’t heard about the program, and declined to comment.

Blostein said changes are unlikely to happen this year, but may take effect next year.

The department took a cut of $250,000, which Blostein said “represents all of our contingency funds.” In 2005, one technician and two administrative assistants left. Their positions were left unfilled and the money that was saved from there is being used to help the department absorb the cuts this year.

“To some extent, if you have fewer students, maybe there’s less work [for staff members],” Blostein said. “But some other areas aren’t really sensitive to the number of students.”

The cuts have limited the department’s ability to update equipment or hire adjunct instructors.

Blostein said low enrollment is due in part to first-year students’ lack of exposure to electrical and computer engineering course material.

Unlike some schools in the province, Queen’s doesn’t offer engineering students the opportunity to specialize until their second year.

Blostein said one way to increase enrollment could be to offer a direct-entry program to electrical and computer engineering in first year.

“We’re trying to make our program as attractive as possible, but this will be really challenging [with the cuts],” Blostein said.

“Though we have not had to cut courses or reduce staff [this year] … we will have no choice but to cut electives in the future.”

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