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Undefined budget scenarios put university staff on edge

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>University of Winnipeg president Annette Trimbee announced a 3.7 per cent cut to the post-secondary school’s provincial operating grant for 2020-21, equivalent to $2.3 million reduction.</p>


University of Winnipeg president Annette Trimbee announced a 3.7 per cent cut to the post-secondary school’s provincial operating grant for 2020-21, equivalent to $2.3 million reduction.

University staffers grow anxious about their employment status, as administrators hint at pandemic-related cuts ahead and the province remains mum on specifics.

On Monday afternoon, University of Winnipeg president Annette Trimbee announced the post-secondary school’s provincial operating grant for 2020-21 would be cut by $2.3 million — the equivalent of a 3.7 per cent reduction.

SHANNON VANRAES / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>David Barnard, President & Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manitoba.</p>


David Barnard, President & Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manitoba.

That brings the facility's total expected COVID-19 losses to $6.3 million, an almost six per cent cut in revenue compared to figures in this year’s $144-million budget.

"Our focus is on non-salary reductions. At the same time, we are pivoting to meet the growing demand for educational programs — we know post-secondary education will be on the front lines of the post-COVID-19 recovery," Trimbee wrote in an email to faculty and staff.

She said the school has been preparing to deal with several budget scenarios, but did not get into specifics about what they might mean for U of W’s future; its board of regents is expected to review the draft budget in June.

"Everybody’s on pins and needles, expecting the cuts to come down soon," said Scott Forbes, president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations. "This is just making it impossible for the universities to function. This whole thing has been mishandled from the start."

In mid-April, the Pallister government gave post-secondary institutes less than a week to draw up staff reduction blueprints for four months, ending in August. Last week, the province revealed the group of reporting entities in which universities and colleges fall under would be asked to find $175 million in total savings — what it deemed was a one per cent reduction for the group, to redirect to the COVID-19 response.

It has since provided post-secondary schools with verbal feedback and, according to a government spokesperson, will provide "written letters to reflect the direction that has been given in the near future."

Among the "directions" being delivered, adjusting the workforce in areas affected by limited in-person interactions, such as cafeteria rosters, and reducing executive salaries and travel expenses, the spokesperson said.

University of Manitoba president David Barnard has said administrators are waiting on written confirmation from the province before sharing details.

"I was clear in my conversation with government, as I have consistently been, that post-secondary is an investment — not a cost," Barnard wrote in an email dated Friday. "Indeed, the economic and social success of this province depends on the success of its largest and only research-intensive university."

Janet Morrill, president of U of M Faculty Association, said Monday members "are pretty much in the dark, as much as anybody else is."

While many remain uncertain of what lies ahead, dozens of precarious school employees have already lost their jobs amid the shift to e-learning and subsequent pandemic-emptied campuses.

Upwards of 50 U of M members of the Association of Employees Supporting Education Services have received temporary layoff notices in recent weeks. The layoffs have mostly taken place in the areas of kinesiology and recreation management, external relations and extended education.

That figure doesn’t include the number of seasonal employees whose terms were ended early or contract positions that have no longer been assigned further hours at either U of M or U of W.

"Cutting staffing resources will leave the universities unable to meet the additional student demands and will only result in a reduction in the quality of student services," said union president Laurie Morris, adding remaining staff are also being affected negatively by increased workloads.

Forbes said Monday many teaching assistants have also already lost their jobs in cost-cutting measures.

Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3909, which represents graders, teaching assistants, lab demonstrators, seminar leaders, tutors, lecturers and instructors, did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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Updated on Monday, May 11, 2020 at 6:29 PM CDT: Adds photo

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