Dal takes questions on budget cuts

Participants in live web chat expressed concerns Thursday about administrative salaries, tuition increases

BAC Chair Carolyn Watters explaining the timeline for the final budget.
A breakdown of the Budget Advisory Committee.
Watters explains what is known about enrolment and government funding that is not expected to change.
The numbers. Revenues and costs.
Watters explaining the suggested areas where spending can be cut.
VP of Research for the BAC Tom Vinci answers a question onscreen.

“There are many ways to balance the budget and everything is on the table.” That’s what Carolyn Watters, Chair of Dalhousie’s Budget Advisory Committee, said during an online town hall.

The BAC held a live chat to answer student questions and receive feedback about Dal’s deficit. A draft of the Dalhousie operating budget was released last week. The university has a $17.5-million shortfall and cutbacks will be made to balance the books.

The university must decide where to cut spending.

“It’s a matter of setting priorities,” Watters says.

Students began typing in their questions.

One person asks why the university is working on large projects like the IDEA building when they are facing a shortfall. Watters says the students need the space for their classes.

“Where we have areas of growth, if we want to have excellent programs, we have to provide them with suitable space.”

Another participant asks why the student representative on the BAC wasn’t from the Dalhousie Student Union and whether they can be considered a “legitimate student representative”. She says the deans recommend students for the position and the DSU could do this too.

“The faculty are not there as faculty association reps,” she said. Watters adds that the people on the committee are representing the community.

When asked about the soft freeze on hiring, Watters says hiring has slowed and they’re not replacing retired positions. This goes for faculty and administrative staff positions.

“What efforts is Dalhousie taking to pursue additional grants through the $25 million provincial innovation fund? Have these potential grants been factored into the budget in any way?” asks another person.

The fund is a government grant that universities can apply for to support projects that will cut costs. Watters says they’ve submitted proposals for sharing IT and the Tri-Gen efficient power generating system. This fund isn’t part of the operating budget.

The question, “How will senior administrative salaries be affected by the call for cuts?” appears in the chat box.

Vice-President of Research for the committee and philosophy professor Tom Vinci says service units budgets have not been cut as much as faculties in the past.

“That’s an issue of lively controversy. We would like to hear from you about that. Should everybody be cut the same? Should we maintain these differential cuts? Should some areas be completely exempt?“

Someone asks if tuition hikes for international and medical students would be considered.

Watters says they are not anticipating any tuition hikes beyond the three per cent increase this year. They are considering developing a policy that outlines incremental hikes for those programs over the next few years. This would help students know what tuition fees they could expect to pay before starting a program.

The online town hall format was suggested by the DSU as a way of informing the students.

DSU President, Jamie Arron, says the online chat “was a good first step” towards educating students about the budget and keeping the decision making process transparent.

“I urge students to get informed and get vocal throughout the process; we cannot afford to wear cuts on our backs in the form of increased tuition, increased fees or decreased quality. We must shape our university,” he says.

Arron will be bringing student comments to the Board of Governors and Senate. A final budget will be submitted to the board in April.

Watters will be available to answer more questions at the DSU council meeting on Wednesday Jan. 30.