Financial crisis at the U of M topic of discussion at packed town hall

The University of Manitoba’s critical financial situation was the theme of the Oct. 15 town hall meeting.
University president David Barnard told the packed house that the university is facing significant challenges with its budget and will see a $36.4 million dollar shortfall in 2010.
“The broader financial context in which we are moving onward is worse than it has been in our recent experience,” Barnard told the crowd.
“Those of us who have spent our entire employed years in universities haven’t seen anything like the economic circumstances we’re facing now.”
Barnard explained that the current situation was partly due to the economic recession and partly to due to the cost of pension plans.
He said that to cover the $36.4 million gap it would take either a base grant increase of 12.9 per cent or a 4.5 per cent tuition fee increase combined with an 11.6 per cent base grant increase.
“The province has not given us details as to what our expectations for the next budget should be, but they have communicated that the next few budget years will be tough and it’s easy to understand why,” said Barnard.
“We don’t yet know the level of the grant we’ll get [ . . . ]. We don’t expect, whatever happens, that the grant that we get will cover the gap between the funding level that we have now and the funding level we would need to simply do the same work again next year.”
Barnard announced a halt on hiring, and two projects that are being undertaken to address budget issues now while the grant is being waited on.
The two projects, Optimizing Academic Resources (OARs) and Resource Optimization and Service Enhancement (ROSE) were launched on Oct. 5th and will focus on addressing academic synergies and optimizing resources.
The projects are led by two committees made up of representatives from all administrative and academic units. Over the next six weeks, theses committees will be interviewing staff and faculty to review university processes to look for ways to utilize resources at the university more effectively.
When asked whether or not layoffs of academic and support staff at the university would be part of the projects, Barnard could neither confirm not deny. He said that the reality is that salaries account for around 75 per cent of the university’s operating budget.
“We are in a position of not knowing what budget pressures we’ll be put under,” said Barnard. “I’m not in a position to confirm or deny any particular response to an unknown situation.”
When Brian Latour, engineering student, accused Barnard of using scare tactics during the townhall, Bernard responded: “I don’t think it’s scare tactics to tell people the truth [ . . . ] and be open about what’s happening here.”
He explained that the financial reality that the university is facing would be reflected in the prepared budget and in turn through the different operations of the university.
“We would be putting our heads in the sand if we didn’t admit that.”