Staffing cuts cause controversy

University eliminates 22 positions to help budget; students, faculty show outrage in Concourse

Photo by Andreas Patsiaouros
Photo by Andreas Patsiaouros

Faculty and students were enraged Tuesday after learning 22 jobs were eliminated from Wilfrid Laurier University’s support staff and management.

A statement was e-mailed to Laurier faculty, staff and students around 10:30 a.m., outlining that 22 positions were eliminated and the work hours of five other positions were reduced. It explained there will also be a reduction in faculty positions as a result of a voluntary retirement program, the non-renewal of some “limited-term academic appointments” and the number of teaching assignments available to contract academic staff.

The eliminated jobs represent approximately two per cent of the university’s budget, according to the statement.

Faculty convened in the Concourse to voice their opposition around 1 p.m.

“As you can tell, I’m angry as hell,” sociology professor Peter Eglin said to a group of faculty and students.

According to Eglin, Jennifer Drowns, one of the administrative assistants in the sociology department, received a call at her home Monday afternoon to let her know she would be let go as of Tuesday at 1 p.m.

Other support staff and managers, such as the manager at the Writing Centre, were also reportedly let go.

“We’re all pretty devastated … the university gave [Drowns] one day notice and it’s near the end of the semester and Jennifer does very pertinent work for all of us and the students in the department,” said Greg Bird, assistant professor of sociology.

“A department of our size actually can’t function with just one administrative staff.”

Laurier president Max Blouw said the cuts were necessary before the 2015-16 fiscal year in order to try to make a projected $25-million deficit less of an impact.

“I very much sympathize with them. I very much dislike the position we’re in. I wish it were different, but to ensure that we move responsibly forward, we need to reduce our budget,” he said.

“This is painful for everybody and especially so for those whose jobs that have been impacted. But I must say these are the more difficult things we need to do from time to time.”

These cuts, according to Blouw, come as a response to the “financial challenges” that Laurier is facing. He said approximately 80 per cent of Laurier’s budget is made up of salaries and benefits.

“A big priority was to preserve, as much as possible, the outstanding student experience that we deliver,” Blouw said.

After the demonstration ended in the Concourse, a group of students led by Laurier student Ethan Jackson walked up to the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union office.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is raise awareness and stand in solidarity with our staff and with the ones who are supporting and making this university run,” Jackson said.

“What we want is we want our representation, the ones we have elected in office, to represent us and we are speaking and they better hear us.”

Students occupied the office before meeting with representatives of the Students’ Union. Both the Union and the group of students met for about an hour to talk about how students can voice their concerns and what the Union can do for them.

“They have every right to come and voice their concerns. Just sitting and listening to them — it’s very interesting to sit with them and hear their concerns,” said acting Students’ Union president Samantha Deeming.

“They have every right to come up here, that’s what we’re here for: we’re here to represent all 17,000 students. And they’re doing it very politely,” Deeming added.

The meeting ended with both parties agreeing to meet later next week to talk about what the next step is in order to ensure students’ voices are heard.

Bird said he is concerned about how students will be affected by the elimination of these positions.

“I think it’s going to make it worse for them. If you have stressed out professors and teachers … you’re not going to get as good service and you’re going to get people who are exhausted and don’t have time to help out with the small, little questions.”

Blouw said no more staffing cuts are set for the upcoming fiscal year, but is a potential action for subsequent years.

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