The president of Brandon University’s faculty association says that cuts made to the university during the COVID-19 pandemic will be bad both for the institution and the local economy.
Last week, all publicly funded institutions in Manitoba, including universities, were required to send lists of potential cuts to the provincial government as the ongoing pandemic continues to drain resources.
Bryan Hill, the faculty association president and former chair of the university’s chemistry department, told the Sun via phone on Monday that publicly funded institutions need to be firing on all cylinders more than ever and cuts will only hurt those who rely on them.
"The only group on the planet which has got cheap access to money is of course governments, provincial and federal," he said. "Now is absolutely not the time for austerity."
Hill said that there is some concern that the current government is using the pandemic to push through cuts based on their ideology and not based on the current situation imposed by the pandemic.
"It’s our contention that the provincial government is using the COVID excuse as another way of basically get what they wanted a couple of years ago," he said.
"A year and a half ago, the provincial government told various universities ... to cut 15 per cent from their administrative side. Perhaps some of the other institutions are top-heavy, but I don’t know if Brandon University has anywhere left to cut. They shuffled some pieces around and I don’t know if the provincial government was actually pleased with what BU did — or maybe they weren’t pleased with what any of the universities did."
Both the faculty association and the university are waiting to see how much the government asks them to cut. The budget proposals sent to the government by institutions were supposed to outline potential cuts worth between 10 and 30 per cent of their budgets.
Last week, BU spokesperson Grant Hamilton told the Sun that some of the proposals included potential wage cuts to staff. Faculty association member services officer Shari Maguire further explained that wage cuts could take the form of unpaid days off. Hill said the bulk of these unpaid days would likely be taken during the summer if that proposal is accepted, which would kill their preparation time for the following academic year.
The 2020-21 academic year could potentially not have any in-person classes at all depending on how the pandemic progresses. According to Hill, instructors will need time to figure out how to move classes to distance learning for the first time.
"Everybody is hopeful for a return to the classroom and face-to-face instruction can take place, but we’re not at all certain that’s the way things are going to be," Hill said. "What we’re trying to do is to plan for September and plan for a variety of different scenarios."
Another problem with having to take unpaid leave during the summer is that it could interfere with faculty doing research. Hill gave an example of a professor studying an animal active only during the summertime losing opportunities if forced not to work some days.
When asked about the potential of position cutbacks at the university, Hill said that there’s no fat to trim at the institution. For example, Hill said he’s the only organic chemist at the university. If he were to suddenly take ill, there would be no one to take over his classes.
The Sun asked Brandon University if it had heard back from the province regarding cuts but did not receive a response by press time.
» Twitter: @ColinSlark
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Updated on Tuesday, April 28, 2020 at 5:30 PM CDT: Updated the article to reflect that Bryan Hill is no longer head of Brandon University's chemistry department.