By Jeremy Nolais
Officials with a Calgary university will gather to grapple with an operating-budget deficit that nearly tripled on the release of a tough provincial budget last week.
Mount Royal University had already said it may be forced to slash faculty positions or entire programs to compensate for a $5-million operating shortfall that would have existed even if the governing Tories had stuck to a promised two per cent increase in student grants.
However, on budget day, it became apparent those grants had actually been trimmed by up to 7.3 per cent, and MRU President David Docherty said in a email Friday to students, faculty and other staff the total shortfall is now $14 million.
“The actions we will be forced to take to meet our mandated obligation to present a balanced budget to the (advanced education) ministry mean significant changes to the way we operate and the services we provide our students . . . our institution will be in a different place going forward,” Docherty wrote in the email obtained by Metro over the weekend.
Meanwhile, University of Calgary senior officials could not be reached for comment Sunday; however, an excerpt from a faculty association newsletter published in December and provided to Metro last week indicates key areas like science, education and the arts have already seen academic staffing reductions of up to 16 per cent over the past few years.
Budget town halls have been planned on the U of C campus for March 21 in the Taylor Family Digital Library and March 27 in the dining centre blue room.
Raphael Jacob with the U of C Students’ Union said further cuts would only do more harm to the quality of education on campus.
“Students are waiting to see how the institution reacts,” he said.
Gerry Cross, president of the Mount Royal Faculty Association, said some students have already been accepted into programs for the fall semester that could now be in jeopardy.
“We have a responsibility to communicate to Albertans that it’s the future of Alberta that’s being harmed by these cuts, so they should all care,” he said.
Cross added that MRU already trimmed up to 22 faculty positions last year and had been continuing to struggle with provincial funding promised for the 2009 transfer from college- to university-length degrees that never arrived.
Adding further complexity to the situation are incoming “mandate letters” that Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said will define clear roles for each of Alberta’s 26 post-secondary institutions.
“There’s general concern about the government interfering — telling us what to do,” Cross said. “We feel that our expertise as post-secondary educators should be respected and we should at least be consulted, and that just hasn’t happened.”
Lukaszuk said last week the letters would encourage better co-operation and efficiency — especially in cases where more than one institution in a city is offering the same program. He said institutions currently, “Are all playing their own tune and they’re off-beat.”
Mount Royal is expecting to receive its mandate letter within two weeks, Docherty said in his email.