Budget cuts a year later

Arts and Science departments cut lab time, plan fundraisers

John Fisher, physiology department head, says he thinks the quality of education can be preserved.
John Fisher, physiology department head, says he thinks the quality of education can be preserved.

One year after former Principal Tom Williams announced an across-the-board budget cut, Arts and Science departments have found innovative ways to deal with some of their losses.

In an e-mail to faculty on Nov. 15, 2008, Williams announced a 15 per cent cut for all faculties over the next three years.

Arts and Science, the largest faculty, runs a $70-million annual budget and is made up of more than 35 departments.

For physiology department head John Fisher, the five per cent cut the department faced for 2009-10 almost forced the undergraduate program out of a lab component. “Because of financial pressures, we got together with pharmacology and toxicology to combine undergraduate labs,” he said. “If we couldn’t do that, we couldn’t offer labs.”

Physiology, pharmacology and toxicology, microbiology and immunology and anatomy and cell biology are all departments within Life Science. By combining labs, both departments are able to save costs on faculty supervision and lab supply costs.

Fisher said the physiology department cut the lab component from its existing second-year courses and created two new laboratory classes, combined with the pharmacology and toxicology departments, in their place.

The new courses are waiting for approval from the Faculty of Arts and Science, he said.

For the 2009-10 school year, the laboratory component has been removed from the core Life Science second year course. Pending approval, the new laboratory-only classes will begin next year for third-year students.

“The downside is, of 220 Life Science students in second year, only the research stream and comprehensive stream students will be able to take those courses,” Fisher said, adding that less than half of all Life Science students will be able to take the new courses because of limited space.

“By thinking about how we can collaborate with another department, we’ve been able to keep an outstanding laboratory experience intact,” he said.

A faculty member retired last year and the department doesn’t have the money to hire a replacement, Fisher said.

He said Continuing and Distance Studies has been encouraging departments to think about offering electronic courses to enlarge their potential student pool.

Electronic courses allow people who aren’t in Kingston or who attend another university to take Queen’s courses, he said.

Some of the electronic materials used for distance education courses can also be used in more traditional, in-class courses, he added.

“We need to loosen up first- and second-year courses to be more e-based so we can focus on making third and fourth more small group,” he said.

“If we do things exactly how we’ve done them for 20 years, the impact will be negative, but if we rethink how we deliver curriculum ... I think we can preserve the quality of the learning environment.”

The classics department was spared from cutting courses this year despite a five per cent cut, department head Caroline Falkner said.

“We will have problems in financing departmental operations,” she said. “It will only get worse as we get into years two and three [of the cuts].”

Falkner said departmental operations costs include things from administrative staffing to printing paper.

“It will have an impact on the students in terms of the things we can do,” she said. “There will be more stuff they will have to print off themselves for example.”

“We run a very lean operation in the first place; we’re doing everything we can think of to save money,” she said, adding that in a small department like classics, little things like adjusting how much mail is sent out can make a noticeable difference.

There are few opportunities for the department to find additional funding, Falkner said.

“We have the occasional generous donor but there’s very little else,” she said. “We try to get what we can to help our operations in archaeology, for example.”

Falkner said she thinks it’s too early to know the impact the cuts will have on the quality of education students receive.

“I suspect it will, over the next one to three years, have quite a large effect on the quality of education because if we’re looking at larger classes and little adjunct help, it will have an effect.”

School of Music Acting Director Ireneus Zuk said the possibility of having to cut down on term adjuncts would have a negative effect on the music program.

Unlike tenured, tenure-track and continuing adjunct faculty, term adjuncts’ teaching contracts expire and they must be rehired each year.

The music department has about 23 term adjuncts who mostly teach applied instrument classes.

Zuk said the department is brainstorming ways to cut other costs.

“We’re trying to come up with the cuts but don’t know if it’s possible,” he said. “Even a two per cent budget cut is very significant in a school like ours because there have been cuts over the years and when you’re already so close to the bones, there’s nothing left to cut.”

Zuk said the department is hosting fundraisers next term to raise some money.

“We have a fundraiser coming in February which is going to give us, we hope, a good amount of money,” he said. “Almost every line in the budget—Xeroxing, printing, telephone—we’re trying to slash that a little bit to come up with our cuts.”

The department will submit a three-year budget to the Faculty of Arts and Science in mid-November, he said.

“We may just have to say it’s not possible,” he said. “That’s what it may come to if we can’t get money from donors.”

Zuk said he thinks the department is going to suffer if it doesn’t raise enough money to keep term adjuncts and courses.

“I don’t think it’s possible to have the same kind of quality with this great attrition in funding,” Zuk said. “At the moment we’re holding our own but it will affect us.”

—With files from Gloria Er-Chua

See Friday’s Journal for how other faculties are faring with budget cuts.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.