Administration freezes support staff positions, restricts travel expenses

In an effort to balance their 2017–18 budget, the University of Ottawa administration is in the process of figuring out the best way to trim the fat.

According to a memo sent to U of O staff from president Jacques Frémont on Friday, Dec. 2, the university is facing a $15-million deficit this fiscal year and has been consulting with the heads of faculties and services to see how they can soften the blow.

“This fall, a Standing Committee on the budget was created to set out the principles and approaches needed to balance the budget,” wrote Frémont. “This committee is co-chaired by vice-presidents Marc Joyal and Michel Laurier, and its members include a range of representatives from the (U of O) community. The committee’s work is underway and it will submit its recommendations to the Administration Committee in early 2017.”

However, in the meantime, the administration has decided on a number of cost cutting measures that could help the university achieve the desired reduction in their base budget.

As listed in the Dec. 2 memo to staff, the following measures will take effect immediately and remain in place until April 30, 2017:

  • Construction and renovation projects under the building inventory improvement plan (PAPI 1) are suspended, unless required by safety or legal obligations.
  • All discretionary expenses, such as travel, will be restricted.
  • A hiring freeze on all contract or honorarium-based administrative and support staff positions, except in rare cases approved by the vice-president concerned.

The following three measures will be discussed with the unions concerned:

  • A freeze on external job postings and on external hiring to fill temporary or permanent administrative or support staff positions.
  • No retroactive salary adjustments when positions are evaluated or reclassified.
  • No position reclassifications until further notice, except for previously approved unit reorganizations.

To some these money saving strategies may be alarming, especially given that this year the university also decided to save around $1.5 million by putting thousands of academic journals on the chopping block.

However, the Dec. 2 memo notes that this year’s deficit is simply a symptom of the two per cent reduction that was implemented to balance the 2016–17 operating budget.

“Despite our best efforts to generate more revenue and contain expenditures, we see a similar scenario this year. The growth of our revenues does not offset the constant increase of our expenditures.”

But to Jennifer Dekker, a U of O librarian and president of the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa, this latest round of cuts is systemic of a bigger problem.

“We’ve been analyzing the audited financial statements for the university over the last 15 years and there are budget surpluses that they’ve squirreled away, that they have not invested in education,” said Dekker in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen. “These so-called deficits that they’re running … are not justified.”

While many faculty members are still unsure about how these proposed cuts will affect them in the long run, a preliminary budget for the 2017–18 fiscal year is expected to be released some time in early 2017.

This budget will then be tabled at the Board of Governors (BOG) meeting in May.

If you would like to learn more about issues pertaining to the university’s budget, you can attend the last BOG meeting of 2016 on Monday, Dec. 12 at 5 p.m. in room 083 of Tabaret Hall. These meetings are open to the public.