Lunchtime Town Hall Addresses Cuts

News Staff - Thu Mar 28, 2013

About 200 students joined the lunchtime crowds around SUBstage on Tuesday to attend a Town Hall on the recent cuts to post-secondary education in Alberta.

With The Gateway’s April Hudson and CJSR’s Matt Hirji moderating, SU President Colten Yamagishi and Vice President (External) Petros Kusmu gave an overview of the state of Alberta’s post-secondary education system in light of the cuts, with Kusmu touching on the provincial budget, post-secondary participation in Alberta and student debt. Yamagishi discussed student tuition and fees at the University of Alberta and the historical trends that have seen tuition rise by almost 300% after inflation since the early 90’s.

Yamagishi also outlined the Students’ Union’s immediate priorities in responding to the budget cuts, which include:

  • Maintaining a high quality of education for current and future University of Alberta students

  • Guaranteeing that students are highly involved in the discussion on budgetary decisions

  • Protecting valuable student services that are already funded by students through non-instructional fees

  • Ensuring undergraduate students do not face unjustified increases to fees

  • Informing the government of the negative effects of a cut of this magnitude on the student experience

  • Empowering students to advocate for those aspects of the University of Alberta experience that are most valuable to them.

A number of students who came out to the Town Hall shared their concerns with the crowd, which included concerns about administrative costs and mandatory retirement for professors. Other students emphasized the need to mobilize in order to respond forcefully to the cuts.

The SU shares the concerns about the ballooning growth of the university administration, and the SU also shares the same concerns as many staff — as Yamagishi voiced in the Town Hall — that mandatory retirement does not solve the institution’s structural deficit and would be a poor way to react to the budget cuts.

The SU is appreciative and supportive of efforts by students to mobilize and voice their frustration with the cuts, and continues to encourage students to get involved.

The SU is also appreciative of the many MLA’s of all parties who attended the forum to listen to student concerns and share their own views. As this is just one opportunity for student feedback, the SU aims to continue to collect student opinions on both the cuts and how to move forward.

To view the recorded Town Hall, please check out the Students on Budget website.

To contact your faculty association and get involved, check out the Council of Faculty Associations Website.

There has been some misinformation about SU President Colten Yamagishi’s answer to a question regarding mandatory retirement of university staff. His answer in full is has been transcribed below. The question may also be viewed at the beginning of the Town Hall video, which you can access here.

“That’s a great question. I think you’re really touching the root of where some of these issues come from and where the government, I believe, is trying to address with some of the initiatives that they are putting forward.

When we look at increases to staff salaries and we look at the increments that they get every single year, we see 2% plus 2%, plus an increment on top. So we’re looking at basically a minimum 4% increase to staff salary every single year. When the institution is looking for a 2% increase, we look at that 2% gap — where are we going to get that 2% in funding?

One thing that Minister Lukaszuk has brought up in the past few days was he was talking about the potential for staff salary freezes and how that will change the scope of how our operating budget is growing compared to these staff wages. One thing I think we need to be very careful about when we talk about staff freezes is that this is something that we looked at in 2009 — we looked at the mandatory retirement and giving people early buy-out packages.

The way I look at this is it is somewhat of a Band-Aid solution, making people retire at 65. You can’t force someone to quit their job whenever you feel like it. There are certain freedoms that need to be protected for our staff. However, I think looking at staff salaries is definitely an interesting way to look at the way we do human resources, to look at the way we do wages and compensation, and finding a model that works with the annual growth rates that the institution gets.

Not to say that, a 7% funding cut is always going to make it tougher to find a way to fill in these gaps, but I think we need to make sure, as students, that these gaps aren’t funded on the backs of students. We can’t continue to pay the extra 2% every singe year, and we need to find a long-term solution that’s going to solve this for us.

To give you an answer about early retirement: Do I think it’s a great idea? Not necessarily. I don’t think that we can restrict people to when they have to end their employment. But I do think that we can take a look at how wages and compensation are done at the university. There is what is called the Renaissance Committee being led right now between the academic staff association and the Administration, and hopefully these will be able to find some of the efficiencies that I believe the government is looking for.”

For more information, please contact:
Simon Yackulic
External Communications & Media Advisor
University of Alberta Students’ Union
P: 780.492.4236

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