I want to commend Garett Williams for doing an admirable job trying to report fairly on a complex issue: the budget (“U of M trims nearly $11 million from operating budget,” June 7, 2016). However, some of the framing of the article could contribute to an exaggerated polemicizing of the issues. First of all and most importantly, I suggest there must be a more appropriate word than “blame” to use in reporting the explanation of increased expenses. Blaming doesn’t usually lead to anything constructive, so it’s not a word I would use to describe which costs are rising. There have been some salary increases in recent years at the University of Manitoba, and salaries do make up a large part of overall costs, but these costs have risen because they have needed to in order for the University of Manitoba to competitively attract top faculty and staff. And they have risen as a result of conscious choices, made often in a context like collective bargaining that brings together university administration and labour groups. There’s no blame involved in identifying which costs are rising.
The discussion of academic as opposed to infrastructure costs could also use further elucidation. As I had pointed out to the Manitoban, sometimes it just isn’t that productive to pit one against the other. For example, the university has conducted research that indicates many faculty, and students and staff, would like to see additional childcare spaces built on campus. There is huge demand. While the construction of such spaces would be categorized as infrastructure, it is infrastructure that supports academic activities. Additional childcare spaces would help attract and retain the best professors, and would facilitate the successful learning of students with children. The same is true of the construction or refurbishment of classroom and laboratory spaces. Sometimes infrastructure costs are essential to the support of academic activities.
Another important piece left out of the article is agreement with the position that the cuts have been challenging to units. The dollars pumped back into the budget on a fiscal-only ($27.85 million) and on a baseline basis ($3.82 million) to mitigate those challenges were also left out of the article. This includes significant funding for scholarships, experiential education, accessibility, teaching, Indigenous initiatives, academic enhancement, and research support. The complete list can be found in Attachment 3 of the budget; perhaps the Manitoban will print it here.
Finally, what was missing from the article was the point made about how critical it is for all those concerned about post-secondary education to work together to advocate with government for increased funding. As I wrote to Garett but didn’t make it into the final article: The budget constraints are unquestionably difficult. Units are challenged to deliver on expectations with limited funds. Everyone who believes in the value of post-secondary education can make a difference by advocating with governments for more funding.
Executive director, public affairs
University of Manitoba