Recommendations for 5% cut proposals

Today, the CFA executive sent an open letter to chairs, coordinators, and convenors in support of the consultative process. Included in the letter were suggestions for further consultation and for calculating the five per cent cuts, as well as a request that copies of proposals be sent to the CFA, the Senate Budget Advisory Committee, and Faculty deans. Contents of the letter can be viewed here:

Open Letter to Coordinators, Convenors, and Chairs

Re: Proposals for Making a Campus-wide 5% Cut

The CFA strongly supports the administration consulting with functional areas (departments, divisions, etc.) about potential cuts and including faculty, coordinators, and chairs in the decision-making process. The dialogue on campus these past weeks, while intensely difficult, is an improvement over last year's lack of consultation. It is critical for the academic integrity of this institution that functional areas and their faculty have primary responsibility for making decisions affecting the University curriculum.

Meaningful Consultation
Consultation requires open dialogue and debate. The process may start with generating grass-roots proposals for "belt tightening," but it should by no means end there. To ensure dialogue, debate, and shared decision-making continue after these proposals are submitted, the process must be transparent and apply a set of consistent, well-defined criteria. Faculty, staff, students, and administrators must all be involved in and understand how decisions are made, the criteria used, and the trade-offs being considered.
To this end, the CFA would like to see that the proposals for a 5% cut from each area -- including administrative units in the University -- are shared and debated so we can meet the budget challenge collectively. Furthermore, we ask that the consultative model continue throughout the budget process and provide meaningful ways for faculty, staff, and students to participate and contribute.

Funding Classes -- Controlling Overhead
Cutting sections will be the most difficult and controversial aspect of constructing these proposals. In making these decisions, it is important to understand that the University receives block funding from the Province. Using tuition as a proxy for distributing funding to programs is inappropriate at the functional area level. For this reason, while functional areas might generate creative ideas about how to increase revenues or improve efficiency, they should make recommendations for their 5% cut based only on factors they can control.
For example, there is much confusion about how to "cost" a section. To provide some context, in the Budget 101 seminars presented to the campus community last fall, the total cost of a section was estimated at around $32,000.1 By contrast, the average "marginal cost" of offering a section --  the cost of the faculty salary for teaching the section -- is about $10,400. So, by the logic of the Budget 101 seminars, for every $1 saved on faculty salary by cutting a course, there should be $2 of savings elsewhere, in the "overhead" for running the University. However, a 6% cut in courses and programs in the 2013/14 budget, resulting in a 5% decline in enrolment (seats) did not yield any reduction in the administrative "overhead" of operating the University.
To create confidence in the budget process and improve transparency across the institution, the CFA would like to see a clear plan for how administrative and other non-instructional units in the University are responding to the budget challenges -- how will the "overhead" be trimmed as we shrink the number of courses we offer and students we serve?

Recommendations for Coordinators and Chairs
The CFA makes the following recommendations to coordinators, convenors, and chairs as they prepare and submit their 5% cut proposals:

  • Share proposals developed within your functional areas with the CFA, the Senate Budget Advisory Committee, and your Dean. Be as transparent as possible about the criteria you used to make your proposal and about the impacts it will have on faculty, staff, and students. 
  • Do not cut coordinator / convenor sections unless other coordinators can truly take on this work. Coordinators play a critical role in the collegial model, maintaining the autonomy of functional areas, and in decision-making on issues that directly affect faculty and students. The work done by coordinators is crucial to the functioning of the University and cannot generally be done more efficiently by administrative staff. Thus, in most cases, there are no real long-term cost savings to the institution from cutting coordination sections. 
  • Work within the line items of your own budget. Only the cost of faculty and division staff salaries and expenses show up as line items on your budgets. We know this is not the total cost for running your courses. Similarly, the revenues from tuition and the provincial operating grant generated by the section you offer do not appear in your budget. Since both the "overhead" costs and the revenues for offering a section do not appear on your budget, they are not under your control and cannot be accounted for within the context of the budget for a single functional unit.

In making this recommendation, we recognize, it makes no more sense to count each section cut as a $32,000 cost savings than it does to count the savings as faculty salary minus tuition (which, by the way, is a negative number for many sections). A full-cost accounting of section cuts can only be done within the context of the University as a whole. Hopefully, this will be the next phase of a truly consultative process, and one that satisfies principles of transparency.

  • Request from your Dean true consultation in going forward with your proposal. Faculty must be included in the decision-making process, not simply provided a chance to give feedback on a proposed budget after decisions have been made.
  • Request from your Dean a clear plan for how the administrative "overhead" and operating expenses of the wider University will be cut to match your proposals for shrinking course offerings (and thus number of students) within your functional areas.

1. $32,000 / section is the total Operational Expenses of the University, divided by the number of sections offered.