‘No flexibility’ in budget

$200,000 mechanical engineering cut finalized end of August

In the first week of July, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science Kimberly Woodhouse was told her faculty was going to have to make cuts to its budget.

Associate Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science Lynann Clapham said the budget was finalized in the fourth week of August, resulting in a $200,000 cut.

“That was when our budget was finalized after lots of negotiation,” she said. “That’s when we actually got it down to 4.5 per cent. It’s comparable to what the whole University has been cut by, but before it was much higher.”

Clapham said the faculty heads were not made aware of the budget cuts until the end of August.

“On August 27 [Woodhouse] got all the faculty heads together and said, ‘How are we going to deal with this?’ The faculty office took a 13-15 per cent cut, and the rest was spread amongst departments,” she said. “Every department had to say what they were going to give up.”

Clapham said about 90 per cent of the faculty’s budget goes toward paying faculty salaries.

“Keep in mind that most of the department budget is tied up, you have no flexibility,” she said. “You’ve probably got something like 10 per cent discretionary funds, and the rest goes to people that you have to pay.”

The mechanical engineering department cut six elective courses due to the budget cuts.

According to Clapham, that decision was made on Aug. 27. Students were informed on Aug. 30.

Clapham said making students aware of this change only nine days before classes started was an exceptional case—one that has never happened in the history of the faculty.

“Normally, this faculty is good at trying to make sure that all students know exactly what they’re doing by pre-registration date what courses are offered,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate that it had to be so late, and we would never choose that option because we always try to give our students lots of time to be able to pre-register.”

Mechanical engineering negotiated with a number of other departments that offer similar courses to those offered in their department.

“There are courses in civil [engineering] that are comparable to the courses that are offered in mechanical.”

Clapham noted that other departments have chipped in to ease the burden, including taking caps off their classes so that more students could enroll.

“There was a bit of give and take across the faculty where other professors opened up their courses and said, ‘We can take a few more here and accommodate more students.’”

Although students have speculated they may be unable to graduate following the cancellation of the six electives, Clapham dismisses these notions as rumours.

“There are no cases of students that will be unable to graduate. Mechanical engineering is such a broad base, we offer a really wide range of electives,” she said. “We stream them into five suggestive streams. In each of the stream suggestions, there are still a ton of courses offered.”

The faculty expected a negative reaction from a large number of students, but have only received two e-mails from students, a sign Clapham says that means students have been able to find alternatives.

“We actually haven’t had very much [feedback] at all,” she said. “Maybe it’s not their absolute favourite course that they wanted to, or their favourite professor that they wanted to have, but it’s still something.”

She said the faculty will be looking at a similar kind of budget cut next year, but will examine the curriculum as a whole to allow for the changes “We’re looking into increasing the enrollment of students, as they’re our only source of income,” she said. “We’re not raising tuition fees; we are looking at getting more students in the door.”

Clapham said every department within the faculty will be asked to do a re-evaluation of their structure, and the six electives cut may be offered again in the future.

“They’re still on the books,” she said. “We will get every department to look at rationalizing its own program structure to see with a limited budget where they should be focusing their efforts to give their students the best experiences without overstretching faculty resources.”

Brian Surgenor, acting head of the department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, said the department was left with three choices after learning about the budget cuts.

“One was to cut some electives courses, the second choice was to lay off staff, and the third choice was to close faculty positions,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious that the only tenable solution was to cut elective courses.”

Of the 10 per cent set aside as discretionary funds, Surgenor said half of it is allotted to keep adjunct professors on staff.

“Five per cent is so-called soft money, which is the adjuncts. If you have to cut five per cent, you’ve got no choice.”

Last week, an e-mail sent from Alistair MacLean, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, detailed the budget cuts to be made to the faculty for the 2008-09 year.

“I regret to tell you that, unlike the past few years when the Faculty Office has been able to protect departments from the direct effects of budget cuts, you should be planning to prepare a budget for 2008-2009 with cuts of approximately this magnitude based on your entire 2007-2008 operating budget,” the e-mail said.

James MacKinnon, head of the Economics department, only found out about cuts being made to the Arts and Science budget on Friday.

“I learned about this on Friday,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s physically possible for most departments to make the sort of cuts within that time frame.”

MacKinnon said he thinks department heads were given an inadequate amount of time to identify where expenditures can be reduced within each department. “We’re in the middle of the biggest capital building program in the history of the University and yet massive budget cuts are being inflicted with almost no notice.”

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