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Budget cuts could increase McGill deficit to $30 million

On Dec. 6, the Parti Québécois (PQ) announced that it expects Quebec universities to cut $124 million from their cumulative operating budgets by April 2013. According to McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, the cuts amount to 5.2 per cent of universities’ operating grants, but their introduction, two-thirds of the way through the fiscal year, makes them equivalent to 15 per cent.

Members of the McGill administration say they will lobby the Quebec government to reverse the government’s decision to retroactively cut $19.1 million from McGill’s operating budget, before making any decisions as to which university services could be affected by the cuts.

The McGill Board of Governors (BoG) approved the university’s 2012-2013 budget last March. This budget included a $7 million deficit. According to Munroe-Blum, the additional cuts could push this year’s deficit to over $30 million.

The PQ claims the previous Liberal government had planned similar cuts, and that universities should have been made aware of them earlier in the fiscal year. University leaders across the province have denied receiving such notice.

“The effect of taking such a cut would be to transfer a portion of the government’s deficit to the university system, while undermining dramatically the important educational, economic, research, and social contributions of the University,” Munroe-Blum wrote in an email to the McGill community on Dec. 14.

The BoG passed a resolution on Dec. 13 that condemned the cuts as “excessive” and “injurious” for both universities and Quebec society, and insisting that the government reverse the decision.

“We will take every measure necessary to persuade the government to withdraw these harmful and ill-timed cuts, and to give us the degrees of freedom we need to fulfill our mission—to serve Quebec and Quebeckers at the highest level,” Munroe-Blum wrote.

Last Thursday, Provost Anthony Masi told the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Legislative Council that Munroe-Blum and Vice-Principal (External Relations) Olivier Marcil are working with other universities to prepare a proposal for the government.

“We’ve made no plans because we want to have the conversation first,” Masi said. “We’re not going to the government with a plan saying ‘here’s how we’re going to make the cuts.’ We’re going to the government saying … ‘can we convince you that this is not a good thing to do?’”

Reactions across campus

Although more than a month has passed since the PQ’s announcement, groups and individuals across campus continue to react to the proposed cuts.

Shortly after the announcement, the McGill Association of University Teachers (MAUT) passed a council motion condemning the cuts. MAUT President Alvin Shrier emphasized the need for coordinated efforts to pressure the government into reversing their decision.

“Everybody’s going to pay the price, because at the end of the day, these kind of cutbacks are not going to help the quality of our education,” he said.

Jonathan Mooney, secretary-general of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) pointed to the budget cuts as a direct contradiction of the PQ’s support for education when they were elected in September 2012.

“They were elected on the platform that they wanted to protect students, make sure that they have a good experience, and that they valued education,” he said. “[The decision is] really bad for the government because it undermines their credibility.”

Mooney also said that groups may withdraw from the Quebec summit on higher education planned for February.

“The whole idea of the summit was that we were going to have a conversation with all the stakeholders—staff, professors, students, administrators, people from the community, business leaders,” he said. “Now it’s like [the PQ has] already made their decision.”

Other students showed their opposition to the cuts by protesting at the Dec. 13 BoG meeting. According to one protestor, the demonstration also intended to “propose and enforce an unlimited general strike of the McGill administration” against the government.

“In the printemps érable, we saw that an unlimited general strike is the only avenue for creating an effective power relation with the government, and we want to share that lesson with the administration in its time of need,” the protestor, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

The protestors attempted to enter the BoG meeting to deliver their motion, but were denied access by McGill Security. SSMU President Josh Redel, a member of the BoG, said he disagreed with the tactics of the protestors, whose presence delayed the start of the meeting and caused the board to relocate to a different room. He expressed concerns over the initial joke-like manner of the protest.

“My frustration is that the initial framing of the protest as a joke or ironic is childish, especially at a time when we’re facing something so real,” Redel said. “$20 million isn’t a joke. Today’s discussion was crucial and has a direct impact on students … You can be very powerful in protest but still show respect.”

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