Cuts total $8.9 million

The office of the vice-president academic has been given one year to figure out the best way to implement five per cent cuts within the various departments.

The cuts resulted from Wilfrid Laurier University’s operating budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, which was officially released on June 18.

WLU president Max Blouw believes the school has done the best they could, given the current economic state.

“We spent a great deal of time developing the budget and in an environment of tremendous uncertainty, the budget balances a prudent approach to our future against the quality of the education we can provide,” said Blouw.

The most significant component of the budget includes a one-year deferral on pension payments.

This deferral will allow the university to save $8.7 million this year; money that they have put back into the academic department as one-time-only funds.

“Universities have been lobbying the government asking them to give us a break on the [payments],” said vice-president of finance Jim Butler.

“The two biggest drivers [to the university’s debt] are the pension deficiency and the structural deficit,” added Butler.

“[The deferral] pushes everything out a year…the deferral increases the cash flow by $4 million [for this year].”

Butler added that the amount of debt created by the pension and benefits payments really questions the sustainability of the current system.

The main purpose of the pension deferral is to buy some time for the university to conduct proper planning for next year’s academic cuts.

While there will have to be cuts made, they will not be a big as they might have been without the deferral.

The numbers show that the office of the vice-president academic will be experiencing the most cuts; however, the figures are slightly misleading because academics is the largest department.

“Proportionally, they are actually cutting less than other departments,” said Butler.

Student senator, Saad Aslam voiced that the proposed cuts were no surprise.

“It wasn’t really a big secret. We knew there was going to be a lot of cuts,” said student senator Saad Aslam. “It’s not something you want, but it’s necessary in this time.”

The one-time money put into academics for the upcoming year allows the department to make the transition smoothly.

“You can’t change the academic programs of the university overnight,” said Blouw. “Students are involved…there is a whole series of interlocked pieces within our academic environment and to fit what we do into a smaller budget means having to re-jig all of those interlocking pieces.”

The future five per cent cuts that the vice-president of academics will be forced to make are disconcerting to some professors.

“A five per cent cut next year is going to further erode and undermine [the program],” said associate professor of communication studies, Herbert Pimlott.

“Everyone makes budget cuts, but at some point, the quality is eroded.”

Pimlott predicts that class sizes are the most likely to take the hit and even though the university is trying to maintain the integrity of the courses, there will be less time for interaction between professors and students, which Pimlott feels could hinder learning.

“What is lost are the aspects of education that are the qualitative ones,” said Pimlott. “Ones that are not translated into monetary values.”

Another aspect of the budget is the issue of deferred maintenance. Currently the university has $54 million of unfunded deferred maintenance that needs attention. The government currently only gives about a year towards deferred maintenance.

$1.8 million is budgeted for deferred maintenance each year; however, in order to pull out of the deficit, they would need to spend $15 million a year.

Butler expects that the next two or three years will also present similar tough budget situations, as universities across the province will be able to rely less on government funding.

It gives us time for the markets to recover and hopefully the economy starts to turn around. If it doesn’t, we could be in a lot more trouble.”

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