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Francophone services, Ontario government cuts on the agenda

The University of Ottawa’s Board of Governors met on Jan. 28 to discuss the school’s response to the Ford government’s cuts, the expansion of Francophone services, and the ongoing issues facing the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO).  

Francophone services

The board states that the U of O has made significant progress toward its 2020 goal of expanding French-language services and attracting Francophone students to campus. The administration will provide a report on this progress later this year. Board members acknowledged the responsibility the university has in supporting the Franco-Ontarian community and believe a more active role must be taken in the face of the Ford government’s cuts to French services. Following the cancellation of Toronto’s proposed French university, the U of O is now the only French-language school in Ontario.

The next steps include coordinating and reinforcing the various French services available on campus and enrolling more Francophone students.

Sexual assault policy

The U of O Human Rights Office updated the university on efforts to combat sexual assault on campus. The exact rates of sexual assault at the school remain unknown due in part to a complicated reporting system.

The office commented that they deal almost exclusively with reports between and against staff, while reports against students often go directly to the police or other organizations on campus including protection services and SFUO-affiliated resource centers. This was not the original intention of the office, which originally planned to handle all human rights cases. The office commented that confusion in the reporting process has led to redundant or missed cases.

The Human Rights Office advised that more coordination and streamlining between offices could help with response times and backlogs of sexual assault cases.

Campus expansion

The U of O’s new foothold building in Kanata North is making progress and will likely open later this semester. The board hopes that the facility will allow greater integration into Ottawa’s booming tech industry, allowing more co-op opportunities and connecting students to industry professionals.

Brooks residence will be demolished, worsening a 2,000 bed shortfall in residence housing. The school plans to accelerate plans for new residence space as several older residences prepare for significant renovation. The demand for upper-year residences has also increased following a rapid increase in the number of international students.

Ford government’s cuts

The board acknowledged that the Conservative government’s OSAP changes and tuition freeze will cause a significant budget shortfall for the university in the coming years. The cuts disproportionately impact low-income students, and university services will need to be ready to deal with more support claims and a reduced budget.

Details from the Ford government on the technicalities of the overhaul have been minimal. Some board members expressed concern about the university’s ability to form a concrete financial plan without further information about the government’s new policies. The government is also withholding 12 million dollars owed to the school through a previous contract with the Liberal government.

Various members also raised concerns about the effects of proposed budget freezes, uncertainty surrounding the collection of student fees, poor communication from Queen’s Park, and an increase in provincial bureaucracy on the financial future of the school.

Other information

The board spent the last half of the meeting in-camera, discussing the future of the U of O’s student unions and potential response to Ford’s aggressive budget cuts. Cost-saving measures including the merging of redundant programs were discussed, but the board made no conclusive statements on the matter.