McGill’s Provost Anthony Masi warned at Tuesday’s Senate meeting that the University’s accumulated deficit could nearly double to around $200.8 million by the 2015 fiscal year as a result of the government’s cuts to university operating grants. McGill would be hit the hardest in 2014: its deficit is set to grow by 33 per cent in a single year, according to a report presented by Masi.
The government told the University that it will withhold $32 million in grant money if the University fails to cut $19 million from its budget by the end of fiscal year 2014.
“This is clearly a devastating picture from the point of view of managing our University,” Masi said. “For anyone to argue that McGill or universities in Quebec aren’t underfunded is just ridiculous.”
The report outlined several strategies that would allow the University to meet their new budgetary constraints. These include targeted cuts, reduced headcounts and salaries, and a reduction in raises coupled with attempts to increase revenue through higher enrolment.
“There’s bound to be some effect on courses, number of courses taught, and the support given,” Masi said. “We can’t make a commitment now that some things are totally a sacred cow. Some of everything will have to be cut, and some will be hurt more than others to protect the core mission.”
“We want to protect the quality of that mission, but the quality of life surrounding it will have to be affected. I don’t mean to be cute on that,” he added.
Principal and Vice-Chancellor Heather Munroe-Blum noted that salaries and benefits constituted 75 per cent of McGill’s core operating expenses. Pension plan liabilities, post-retirement liabilities, and pay equity were also highlighted as “on-going pressures” to the McGill budget in the report.
The idea that students could hold a referendum to decide whether to increase tuition or the amount they pay for services was floated at the meeting. Masi thought this would be a good idea.
“Go for it,” he said.
Senator Graham Bell of the Faculty of Science expressed concern over a decrease in the quality of services and said that his faculty could lose nearly “75 per cent of its TAs.”
“Our mission in research and teaching should be protected, the damage might not be obvious, but it may be real,” he said.
Asked if administrator’s salaries might be affected, Masi said that targeting those expenses would be “symbolic.”
“The last time there was a cut was in 2009, and everyone took a cut,” he said. “If all administrators took a 5 per cent cut, it would barely amount to a quarter of a million dollars.”
A more detailed plan should be available sometime after the government’s summit on higher education, planned for February 25.
“When will we know? We’re working day and night on a bunch of scenarios, we’re looking at all the options but I don’t think it would be fair to come up with a plan without hearing what the town halls, focus groups, have to say,” Masi said.