To have and have not

KARL JAROSIEWICZ | The Updated Budget Considerations for 1999-2000, which dominated much of the March 31 meeting of Senate, was presented in a committee of the whole by Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Phyllis Heaphy. Originally billed as a confidential session "in order to honour the University's commitment to the Government of Quebec that budget measures released in confidence to the universities will be kept confidential until March 31", Vice-Principal Heaphy conceded that the information need no longer be kept secret.

Despite the Quebec government's recent announcement of a $170 million injection into the university system, the reality in Quebec is that the university system is still not funded at an adequate level. The $170 million is intended to eliminate part of the Quebec university system's accumulated deficit of $300 million. McGill's share is $48 million of the total deficit.

"We now know that the $170 million will be allocated according to each university's usual share of the operating grant," wrote Heaphy in her covering memorandum. "In McGill's case this amounts to 14.5 %, or approximately $24.6 million." Moreover, this money can only be used to reduced the debt load.

The government also pumped $342 million into the educational system. Since universities account for 15.7 % of the education budget, "it was anticipated that $54 million would be allocated to universities. However, no more than $25 million, to be used exclusively to increase salaries, will be allocated. McGill's share is only $3.6 million.

"While this is the first time in seven years that the government has provided for such increases...McGill's $3.6 million will go nowhere near to meeting the almost $8 million of salary increases we have announced or are proposing for next year, not to speak of other inflationary increases."

Heaphy also qualified the government's well-publicized commitment of $24 million over two years to encourage CEGEPs and universities to increase the number of graduates in information technology-related fields as "insufficient for us to undertake serious expansion in these sectors."

In another move not designed to endear itself to out-of-province students, the Ministry of Education has announced a 20% increase in the supplemental fees these students pay into the government coffers.

The big news in this year's budget is the projection of another $5.5 million deficit. This scenario assumes that programs and activities in the University remain status quo. The deficit is explained by the $7.9 million allotted to salary increases, $1 million to hire 20 new professors and $1 million to be spent on deferred maintenance.

Professor Wilbur Jonnson said that the money reserved for the new professors is "an inadequate amount."

"I agree," said Principal Bernard Shapiro. "We could do it all differently. We could hirer fewer professors but pay them better. The Market is passing us by, not just at McGill, but at universities in general."

Jonnson suggested it would be better to hire 20 professors and to increase the projected deficit.

PGSS representative Steve Cohen drew Senate's attention to the $80 registration charge increase. Currently, full-time students already pay $80. "Where was this discussed? Were there any students?" asked Cohen.

Heaphy replied that Duncan Reid, the current SSMU president, was present. "How is this justified? Are more services being offered? Is this sneaking in fee increases through the back door?" retorted Cohen.

"Prices have just gone up," spoke Shapiro. "This is just to sustain our current levels of quality."

The government is allowing universities across Quebec to make up budgetary shortfalls by charging more for ancillary services, said Heaphy.

"Quebec realizes it's strangling us," she added.

"Even our salary increases will force us to do less in some other areas," said Shapiro. "However, I feel it's imperative that we begin to make up ground lost relative to the market."

Duncan Reid took the floor and told Senate about the resistance to the recent McGill Student Fund (MSF) referendum. Although it was approved by a majority of voting students, selling the concept was tough.

"People were saying that anything good for the University is bad for students," he related. "Now only weeks after students voted to donate nearly $6 million to McGill, this new registration fee is like a slap in the face." He cautioned that the $1.3 million that the fee will generate will "hardly register on the operating budget," and will only strain the already shaky relationship between students and the University.

He gave notice of a motion asking Senate to encourage the administration and the Board of Governors to remove any increase in ancillary fees this year.

"I appreciate the motion and the care with which it was crafted," said Principal Shapiro. "However, the only business we're in is sustaining the quality of education. We do nothing else." He said that the only reason for the extra fee is to "be able to serve students better.

"This nickel and dime stuff is driving us all nuts. But the University needs money to operate." The Principal added that while the MSF donation is generous, "the $6 million will be matched by the University out of our operating budget, and by the efforts of the Development and Alumni Relations Services."

Vice-Principal Heaphy also rose to deliver an impassioned speech.

"About this $80 fee, just look at what it's used for. You ask: 'Does it benefit students'? The question makes me want to cry. Increased salaries? When you graduate are you going to settle for a lower salary than you think you deserve? Wonderful things will happen; you'll benefit from this. Students have to think about [academic] jobs opening up at the University."

She noted that the increased costs include necessary repairs to buildings, as well as increased financial aid to graduate students.

Following the end of the committee of the whole, at which point it is permitted to put forth motions, Reid asked Senate to "encourage the administration and the Board" to defer this new fee. Senator Honora Shaughnessy was able to make a friendly amendment by adding the phrase: "until such time as a dialogue is undertaken to find an alternative" to the fee.

The motion was approved.

An official budget will appear some time towards the end of May, and may reflect some of the concerns discussed at this meeting.