Senate meeting provides few answers
Reports from administration and questions from concerned faculty representatives surrounding budget cuts and pension issues dominated discussion during the first Laurier WLU senate meeting of the 2010 year, which was held yesterday. Uncertainty and government influence on Laurier’s operations were raised, as figures and projections offered by the university provided no real conclusions.
Laurier president Max Blouw cited dropping tax revenues, growing expenses and the provincial government’s financial woes as factors in provincial funding that could have an impact on the school. He noted that while it is unlikely that funding would be cut back, there would be “very minimal increases.”
While the reports from administration, including the report from vice-president of finance Jim Butler, mentioned the economic climate the university is facing, it was during questions from faculty representatives that the impact these broad issues would have on faculty and students was brought up.
In Butler’s report, budget cuts of 1.5 per cent and six per cent respectively over the next two years prompted questions on the effects cuts would have on student experience.
“We need to think about the kind of cuts in front of us and recognize that we can’t turn on a dime,” said Butler.
While Butler called this a “transition year” and a time to address issues, faculty worried that students would be in a difficult situation.
“I know in our department there aren’t going to be enough courses, even if you increase class sizes too close to room [capacities]. Are we going to be looking at that last minute scramble for funding?” asked Glenda Wall, faculty representative of the sociology department.
Vice-president of academics Deb MacLatchy said that departments would need to apply for “transition money” to accommodate students. “It has to be a different status quo than what it has been for the last while. It includes curriculum revision and different approaches.”
The debt and expansion questions
Joyce Lorimer, a professor in the history department brought up Laurier’s accumulated debt and how further expansion, including a campus in Milton, factored in.
“A Milton project is an option to spend more on capital and grow ourselves more into debt,” said Lorimer.
Butler responded by emphasizing that there will be no further expansion “unless it’s paid for by fundraising or some third party.”
Speaking to the fact that Laurier remains one of the most indebted universities in the province, Butler noted that, “We don’t like it….I think it’s time for the government to step up to the plate and put some capital behind the system.”
Laurier’s registrar Ray Darling spoke to the incoming students applying to Laurier and how that will be impacted by cuts and an uncertain future. While applications across the province have remained stable, Laurier experienced a 1.7 per cent drop in applications from last year and a five per cent drop in students placing the school as their first choice. Darling called the drop “a little bit worrisome,” adding, “We don’t know the quality of those applicants yet.”
MacLatchy continued, “At the end of the day what we have to make sure is that we have quality students coming in and that’s our focus now.”
What quality of education those students can expect in light of financial uncertainty remains to be seen.