Constructive solutions

I’ve taken two extended posts now to heavily criticize the University of Alberta’s current move to tax students to make up for their growing deficit, but rather than merely oppose, how would I fix the problem?

While I’m no economist (likely a good thing in this case), and don’t have access to the entire financial records, a few methods strike me as immediately effective at easing the deficit crunch that they’re facing.

First off, change has to start at the top. While the combined $2.6 million salaries and benefits of 4 of the executive are not enough to cover the deficit, the leadership must take ownership of not just the success of the university, but also it’s failures.

A 30% paycut to each of the administrators would bring their salaries and benefits down from the mid $600,000s to roughly the level of University of Toronto president’s reported $430,000. Clearly a large, successful school does not need to pad the pockets of its administrators as lushly as the UofA does, especially in these tough economic times. This represents a savings of $780,000 among the top four, and similar cuts across the rest of the administration would likely add up to a million dollars. It may also be higher once all faculty deans and related administrators are taken into account. This move is in part punishment for mismanagement, but also symbolic of the fact that if students must shoulder some increase, than the administrators must also.

Obviously, there will be resistance to a large pay cut and the UofA will lose some of its administrators. To them I say, good riddance. This new higher wave will allow the university to analyze which administrative positions are positively contributing to the university, and which are superfluous positions. Further, fresh ideas from a new crowd could actually help turn the school around. Poach administrators from small to mid-size schools that are not having as much difficultly succeeding in these tough economic times and use their ideas to restructure the UofA so this doesn’t happen again.

Similar to cutting the budgets of the administrators, the university needs to re-examine its role as a contractor. I’ve seen no evidence that contracting out labour tends to save costs, and if anything, tends to exacerbate disparity as contractors tend not to have the protections afforded to university unions.

Next, cancel the Physical Activities & Wellness Centre and other proposed new buildings and halt construction on several others. When I left the university last year there was over $1 billion in construction projects occurring. A lot of that money was coming straight out of the university’s budget, so until they can afford to, no more massive construction projects.

Finally, the hardest suggestion I have is to cap or even decrease enrolment levels for the next few years. While there will be a small loss in revenue by having fewer students enrolled, it will offer a chance to ensure those who are there get a good education, and that the university can afford to teach them. This will also negatively affect high school students who are just at the edge of academically acceptable for the university, however, we ought to be basing university enrolment on academic and not economic merit. I’d rather a poor student with a 95% average got in then a rich one with 75%.

By capping enrolment the university can scale back its absurd vision of its future expansion and focus on the present. This will also ease the pain of freezing capital projects until they are absolutely necessary.

It doesn’t seem like it’s that hard to me to get this deficit under control. Unfortunately the university administration has convinced many students that more money is necessary for a steady-as-she-goes approach. Meanwhile, no one has questioned the actual causes for the current situation, and as the saying goes, “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”

Even more disappointing, however, is that the current hierarchical structure of the university will prevent almost any of these changes from being implemented by the current administration who only stand to lose in this scenario, but win under any other (even the university going under and them taking home giant severance packages). So to affect these changes, students need to get vocal and resist every tax and fee increase.

Tacit acceptance in not an option if you care about the future of the University of Alberta.