Over the summer, the University announced that McGill has reached 95 per cent of their $43.5 million cost reduction target, following provincial budget cuts that started last winter. The remaining 5 per cent of cuts will be made by individual faculties, mainly through the abolition of some positions, according to Provost and Acting Principal Anthony C. Masi.
The information comes after a winter semester full of uncertainty. In early December 2012, the current Parti québécois (PQ) government revealed that they would be cutting $250 million between December 2012 and April 2014 from universities across the province.
The move meant that McGill found itself out close to $38 million for 2013 and 2014, and left the University scrambling to reduce their operating budget. One of the approaches taken by the University to reduce their budget was a Voluntary Retirement Program (VRP), which aimed to avoid widespread staff dismissals by giving staff the option of a retirement package.
According to the press release sent out on July 16, over 250 staff members took advantage of the VRP, leading the University to approach their goal. The VRP was in effect from April to August 2013, and was available for university employees sixty years or older.
The majority of the 250 positions emptied by the VRP will not be replaced due to a one year hiring freeze also put into effect by the University as a cost-cutting measure.
However, Masi said, there would be “moments of thaw” throughout the year to ensure that “mission-critical services” are maintained – such as health services, and courses and educational programs – and “key positions” are protected.
In addition, the freeze only applies to staff paid from the operating fund, and does not include jobs paid for by soft funds such as research grants, which do not affect the University’s operating budgets.
Still, according to Masi, due to the size of the cuts McGill has had to absorb, students should watch out for changes in how services are provided, such as longer wait times at peak periods and changes in operating hours.
Other cost-cutting avenues pursued by McGill include 3 to 5 per cent reductions in the operating budgets of all Faculties, and a salary freeze for senior administrators.
In an interview with The Daily, Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi explained that the VRP was one of the major ways the Faculty of Arts was able to reduce costs after huge budget cuts. “The remainders [of the cuts] were met primarily through not filling vacant positions and reducing non-salary expense items.”
Despite the fact that the Faculty of Arts saw the loss of approximately 100 “low enrolment” courses, as dubbed by Dean Manfredi, the faculty will see a 15 per cent increase in the budget for teaching assistants (TAs).
The Dean explained that the money for these extra TAs came from the reallocation of resources from cancelled classes.
Despite the challenges faced by the university, Masi still expressed optimism. “We are moving in the right direction, we just need to keep our eye on the target and continue plowing ahead.”