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The U of O is trying to figure out how to cut four to eight per cent out of the 2017–18 budget. Photo: Kyle Darbyson.

Discussion centres around finances and the university’s budget

As the year comes to a close, the University of Ottawa’s Board of Governors (BOG) met for the final time in 2016 on Monday, Dec. 12 at Tabaret Hall.

While the two-hour event covered a number of topics, the bulk of the discussion revolved around the U of O’s budget for the 2016–17 and 2017–18 fiscal years. Members of the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO) were in attendance, as they hoped to glean some definitive answers about potential budget cuts that could be coming in the new year.

Budget for 2016–17 fiscal year

BOG vice-president resources Marc Joyal started his presentation by talking about how the U of O is facing an estimated $14.6-million deficit for the current fiscal year, a period that ends on April 30, 2017.

As previously mentioned by U of O president Jacques Frémont in a memo to staff, Joyal said that the administration is attempting to soften the blow of this deficit by incorporating a number of cost-saving measures until the end of April. These money saving strategies include freezing the hiring of support staff, restricting travel expenses, and suspending construction and renovation projects under the building inventory and improvement plan.

But according to Jennifer Dekker, a U of O librarian and president of the APUO, these cost saving measures are unnecessary. She said this deficit could easily be mitigated if the administration dipped into the sizable surplus they accumulated over the years.

“We don’t understand why that money has been collected from the students and from the government and (it’s) just put in a bank account,” she said. “They’re making interest on it rather than investing it in education.”

In an email to the Fulcrum, Patrick Charette, director of institutional communications for the U of O, wrote that it is important to note that some of the funds tagged as surpluses cannot be used as operating expenditures.

“Some are endowed funds which must be directed to specific purposes while others, such as governmental grants, are attached to particular initiatives and, again, must be dedicated to those initiatives, not to fund day-to-day operations.”

Charette also said that these surpluses are already being used to acquire school resources such as books and lab equipment, and pay for construction and renovation projects.

Library holdings

Throughout the entire meeting, very little was said about the $1.5 million worth of academic journal subscriptions that the administration is putting on the chopping block.

One of the only times this issue was brought up was during Joyal’s presentation on the 2016–17 budget. Graduate student representative Robert Head asked how these proposed cuts to the library will fit into the university’s financial plans for the new year.

While Joyal didn’t provide Head with a direct answer, Frémont later touched on this issue during the reading of his president’s report, saying that the fate of these library holdings is dependent on the response from publishers.

“And all we heard, really, was that the negotiations are ongoing,” said Dekker, whose APUO colleagues held up letters that spelt out ‘I ❤ biblio’ during the budget presentation. “I can only assume what that means is that they’re trying to get access to the journals … without having to pay for them.”

Budget for 2017–18 fiscal year

In terms of the 2017–18 budget, Joyal said that preemptive measures have already been taken to make sure this current deficit doesn’t bleed into the next fiscal year.

A standing committee on the budget was formed this fall, with the expressed intent of consulting with faculty members to help determine the best way to cut four to eight per cent out of their base budget.

When Faculty of Social Sciences representative Victoria Barham asked what kind of impact these four to eight per cent cuts will have on the university as a whole, Joyal said that that is yet to be determined.

During his presentation, Joyal also noted that another consequence of this financial uncertainty is that tuition could increase by as much as three per cent in the next academic year.

While Dekker revealed that the APUO will be involved in this budget consultation process at some point, she felt the meeting left many questions unanswered.

“I left this meeting with not really any change in perception or feeling about it. I think we’re going to have to undertake our own analysis and we’re doing that as I speak,” said Dekker, explaining that that the APUO will be conducting their own analysis to determine how to best allocate funds for the 2017–18 budget.

According to Joyal, the committee’s recommendations on budget allocation will be determined in January and February of 2017, with a finalized 2017–18 budget being presented to the BOG for their approval in May 2017.

The first BOG meeting of 2017 is set to take place on Monday, Jan. 30 at 5:30 p.m. at Tabaret Hall. Meetings are open to the public.