(Liam Maclure / McGill Tribune)

Course cuts: rolling with the punches

a/Opinion by

Once again, Arts is cutting courses.

On Jan. 28, the Faculty of Arts Committee (FAC) convened for the second time this academic year. The primary announcement that emerged from the meeting was another 5 per cent reduction to all existing Arts courses, equating to the cancellation of another 50 classes between all Arts departments for the Fall 2014 and Winter 2015 semesters. This cut follows the reduction of 100 courses last winter in the face of steep provincial budget cuts and a restructuring of McGill finances to overcome a projected deficit of over $40 million. Although McGill’s deficit was reduced to $13.1 million as of December, it’s been forced to make further cuts, making dollars an ever-precious commodity.

Attendance to the FAC meeting was low, which sadly is the norm. Departmental chairs expected the cuts but were not aware of their extent. As an individual often tasked with liaising between students and administrators at the faculty and departmental level, I anticipated tight finances in the coming year, but not an additional slashing of classes. Overall, the distribution of course cuts will vary between departments.

The political science department had considered the possibility of  further cuts, and course planning for the coming year was made with this in mind; core courses will be preserved, leaving the sessional lecturer budget to be cut back. This budget is a set of funds used to hire non-tenure track professors, and is often used to pay for additional thematic courses. Following the 2014-2015 cuts, it was halved, and the department anticipates it will likely be halved again. Knowing this, the department is looking to add new content to existing core courses, both to refresh them with modern content while also to preserve what is being lost. How the burden is being carried out by other departments is still being determined; which courses are cut will ultimately be decided by the department chairs once they know how many they are faced with losing.

Cuts are only temporary, but to a degree, we saw this coming. With tuition once again frozen and provincial funding severely slashed following mass student protests in early 2012, it became obvious the status quo wasn’t going to stick. Less funding and no increases in tuition equates to fewer courses and sessional lecturers. At the same time, the Faculty of Arts faces a steep hiring freeze, with only a handful of positions being opened in a small number of departments at the dean’s discretion.

With Arts squeezed for funding, the quality and quantity of our courses is now in serious jeopardy. Cuts are viewed as temporary, but if we can’t get our act together, it may be more permanent than we’d like it to be.

The only benefit of cuts—if there is one—may be the restructuring of outdated core courses. This remains a real possibility in many departments where courses are taught on outdated models and methodologies. To ensure we move forward as an institution and don’t find ourselves in a cycle of permanent cuts, we as students need to be working hard to have our say on what goes and what stays.

 

—Lauren Konken is the VP Academic of the Political Science Students’ Association (PSSA)