In an email to the McGill community on Feb. 19, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum announced that on Feb. 8, she received word that the provincial government plans to impose more budgetary cuts on the Quebec university system for the next fiscal year. She stated that the Parti Québécois (PQ) will reduce its funding to McGill by another $19.1 million by April 2014.
According to Munroe-Blum, the government said that a failure by the school to make these cuts by the deadline would result in additional cuts of approximately $32 million.
These two announcements come on the heels of the PQ’s original announcement in December 2012, which already required McGill to cut t its operating budget by $19.1 million by April 2013.
“We are committed to continu[ing] to fight the Government’s decisions, but we are obliged to prepare for the worst,” Munroe-Blum’s email reads. “Our priorities must be to protect our core academic mission, and to ensure, as best we can, the well-being of our community, including our staff. We will need, however, to take serious action, including eliminating positions and pulling back on services, supports and programs.”
At four Town Hall meetings hosted on Feb. 11 and 12, Provost Anthony Masi said that McGill’s deficit could reach $38 million by the 2013-2014 fiscal year. However, he announced a much larger figure at Senate last Tuesday. He said that these additional cuts could potentially result in McGill reaching a $200.8 million deficit by 2014-2015.
In a presentation given to Senate, Masi noted a few of the options the university has to make the PQ’s requirements, which include targeted cuts, across-the-board cuts, reduced salary increases and reductions, and increased enrolments above those already planned.
Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney compared these recent cuts and the issue of underfunding with what is happening at universities in other provinces.
“The operating funding available to universities in other provinces is greater than in Quebec, and it is operating funding that is used to pay almost all professors’ salaries,” he said. “Thus, Quebec universities are at a disadvantage with regard to the resources at their disposal to attract, retain, and competitively compensate professors.”
At a council meeting on Feb. 13, PGSS publicly took the stance that Quebec universities are underfunded. The motion that called for this position passed after intense debate over whether or not universities are underfunded, or if university administrations mismanage the funds they receive.
Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) President Josh Redel told the Tribune that he believes the university “is in a dire situation.” He pointed to the difficulties in responding to the cuts at SSMU, since the undergraduate society has a policy of supporting free education.
Redel also noted that during the Senate discussion, some professors asked that the university not implement across-the-board cuts, and that faculties and departments be exempt from budget reductions. Redel expressed concern over these sentiments, noting that if everyone does not accept a small percentage of the cuts, then some university services, such as libraries, might be forced to take much larger cuts.
Some members of the McGill community have already begun to plan for how they might deal with cuts. On Feb. 19, William Hendershot, associate academic dean for the Faculty of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, sent a memo to McGill’s program directors and specialization coordinators that stated that the faculty had looked at what courses it can cut.
“I have tabulated all the courses we are teaching on the Macdonald Campus and I have identified groups of courses that seem to be less important to our programs,” the memo reads. “For example, a course that is not a prerequisite for any other course and is not required in any program is probably of relatively minor importance.”
The memo goes on to list 36 courses—most of which are in the interdisciplinary program of bioresource engineering—that do not serve as prerequisites, and that were deemed “courses that could be dropped with relatively minor impact.”