CAST Reports: Faculty of Fine Arts Council Meeting, February 15th

UPDATE, March 11, 2013: An earlier version of this post stated that the proposed cuts were between 13% and 20% of the total Faculty of Fine Arts budget. Based on new information, I have corrected it to indicate that they are actually between 15% and 20% of the $3.9 million non-salary and non-permanent budget within the Faculty of Fine Arts, for total cuts of $585,000 to $780,000. I apologize for the misinterpretation.

As CAST treasurer, I attended the Faculty of Fine Arts Council (FFAC) meeting this morning. My report follows.

The meeting began at 9:30am on the second floor of the EV with a number of theatre students in attendance, as well as reporters from the Link and the Concordian. Our department chair, Robert Reid, was also present, along with theatre professors Raymond Marius Boucher and Mark Sussman (who currently serves as the Associate Dean, Academic & Student Affairs within the Faculty of Fine Arts).

Dean of Fine Arts Catherine Wild introduced Concordia’s Interim Provost Lisa Ostiguy, who spoke briefly on the “unfortunate, crappy” budget cuts. At last month’s FFAC meeting, proposals were solicited from council members on how the budget shortfall could be addressed within their departments, and Ostiguy has personally reviewed all eighty proposals that her office has received. Ostiguy also noted that Concordia has not yet received an invitation to the provincial Summit on Higher Education, a fact which she characterized as “unbelievable”.

Dean Wild then introduced an PowerPoint titled “Faculty of Fine Arts – Budget Challenges 2013–2014” and noted that she spent an hour on Thursday discussing the potential cuts with the Fine Arts Student Alliance (FASA) executive. Wild summarized the budgetary issues as follows:

  1. The province has cut $13.2 million from Concordia’s operating budget, which follows an $11 million cut several years ago.
  2. Concordia has a structural deficit of $7 million a year, which in plain English means that there is a large gap (about 70%) between what it costs to pay all the university’s employees and what the government funds. The government decides funding for Concordia based on the number of full-time students rather than the number of employees.

With regards to the structural deficit, Wild notes that while Concordia has tried to grow out of the structural deficit by increasing enrollment, this growth is softening and we are reaching capacity in many faculties, especially Fine Arts; we can’t bring in any more students without bringing on more faculty, which we can’t afford to do.

Now for some numbers. Fine Arts has an overall budget of $29.3 million. Fine Arts students make up approximately 9% of the student population but consume 15% of the overall budget, and the cuts are being made based on how much of the budget we use. Wild suggested that the cuts will eliminate between 15% and 20% of Fine Arts $3.9 million non-salary and non-permanent budget, which works out to between $585,000 and $780,000 million in cuts. As the business year for Concordia starts May 1st, the timetable for implementing these cuts is very short.

Reductions will come in the following areas:

  1. Capital equipment: New purchases (approximately $400,000 a year) may be deferred until next year, but they can’t be eliminated in the future, so this is a short term solution.
  2. Timetable adjustments: This is a euphemism for cancelling classes. The Dean’s office has been working with Student Affairs to find courses where not all sections are full or low enrollment might suggest that the course should either be cancelled outright or put into rotation (e.g. offered every other year).
  3. Facilities renovations: Not much was said about this; basically, projects that are underway will continue but those that can be deferred may be.
  4. Dean’s office: Broad cuts will be made to communications support (websites, media relations etc.) and other central services to avoid wherever possible the necessity for these types of cuts at departmental levels.
  5. Casual and contractual support: Basically, these are the people that keep the doors open and the lights on (approximately $800,000 a year). Cuts in this area may result in lesser availability of various Fine Arts facilities, but few details were given. Dean Wild did make reference to the need to prioritize required uses (e.g. theatre productions) over secondary uses.

Some of the many issues here include uncertainty based on poor communication from the provincial government, the possibility of further cuts in 2014–2015, and the incredibly short timetable to implement the proposed cuts.

Interim Provost, Lisa Ostiguy, took a few questions after the PowerPoint, noting that in her conversations with counterparts at Université de Montréal and McGill, it seems that no universities have received their invitations to the Higher Education Summit yet. Other universities in Montréal are facing cuts; McGill and UQÀM were mentioned specifically, with McGill apparently already in the process of negotiating faculty layoffs.

Dean Wild was asked about the “timetable adjustments” and she emphasized that she is accountable for providing a balanced budget to the Provost. She said that the priority in decisions around the timetable would be making sure that core curriculum/required courses are maintained, and noted that each course (3 credits) costs about $10,000. The process involves Mark Sussman and Jean-Pierre Duchesne (Student Affairs) contacting each department chair to highlight enrollment issues. Wild suggested that a maximum of 1-3 course sections could be eliminated per department for a total of 25 course sections at a savings of $250,000.

Ostiguy stated that “these cuts are not going away” and warned that Concordia “can’t count on an influx of public financing”—she characterized the current process of budget cuts for 2013–2014 as “creating an opportunity to begin thinking about” long-term planning. (I know, I thought that was a pretty convoluted statement too.)

Vice-President of Services Roger Côté took the floor next to talk about Grey Nuns. The nuns are leaving on March 28th, at which point the wing that they’ve been occupying will be repurposed into 593 study spaces (whatever that means) which will be managed by library services. Apparently there is a major infrastructure project in the works which will extend the Webster Library up onto the 5th floor of the LB; while this is going on, study space will be available at Grey Nuns.

A faculty member named Gary asked whether this plan didn’t reflect a change in the planned use of Grey Nuns, which was originally supposed to house Performing Arts faculties. Côté acknowledged that the conversation has changed, but that “there is no diminished commitment” to meeting the needs of Performing Arts, suggesting that perhaps a purpose-built facility would be better than an overhauled Grey Nuns building. He stressed that this was NOT in any way a commitment to building a new facility for Performing Arts. Dean Wild noted that turning Grey Nuns into residences as an interim measure was always part of the plan for financing the building’s purchase; residences are relatively self-sustaining from a financial perspective.

Robert Reid asked two questions:

  1. How long does Theatre get to stay in the MB?
  2. Is there any chance to consolidate Theatre operations downtown (e.g. move the set/prop shops)?

Côté responded by suggesting that the stay in MB may be longer than anticipated, as the JMSB has not expanded as rapidly as was originally thought and as of yet does not need to take over additional floors. He highlighted the fact that funding used for the move was specifically designated for the JMSB, so a conversation would need to begin about relocating Theatre, Contemporary Dance and Music around the seven year point (dating from these departments’ initial occupancy of the MB 7th and 8th floors) with the deadline for relocation being ten years from initial occupancy. Robert Reid unambiguously warned against the “trauma” of another sudden move for Theatre and Performing Arts.

Côté wrapped up his presentation and the meeting moved into question period. Dean Wild reiterated that as of late Thursday, Concordia has received no formal agenda for the Higher Education Summit. She spoke about the Performing Arts move and noted that before the decision was made to relocate to the MB 7th/8th floors, there was a plan underway for a new Performing Arts building at Loyola; provincial and federal money that had been earmarked for this project was redirected into the move to MB and renovations of the GM and DB Clarke to accomodate the Theatre Department. We also learned that the VA walls contain traces of asbestos! Fun.

Wild also mentioned that if cuts aren’t made now (e.g. if Concordia begins 2013–2014 with a budget deficit) then the province could punish the university with more cuts. (A budget deficit, for those who aren’t familiar with the terminology, means that your budget shows that you are spending more than you are earning. This is generally regarded as a Bad Thing.)

The timeline for departments receiving specific information about the cuts is the end of March, as long as things continue according to plan. Summer courses have not been listed as we’re not yet sure which ones will be affected. Wild noted that these timelines depend on Concordia not receiving any curveballs from the government in the coming weeks. If all goes well, there will be a numerical presentation of the budget at next month’s FFAC meeting.

I was invited to speak on behalf of Theatre students as the CAST representative, and I brought up the concerns which many in our department share about the potential cancellation of Designing and Conducting an Acting Workshop. Dean Wild responded that as a TDEV elective, this course would not be considered as high a priority as core curriculum if it came down to a choice between the two. I noted that while it is nominally an elective, for many graduating students, it offers an important link between study and work in the field, and she assured me that she was aware of this. I didn’t entirely believe her.

The meeting adjourned at this point and I spoke briefly with Mark Sussman and Robert Reid; Robert is in discussions with Brian Doubt about ways to get creative with Designing and Conducting an Acting Workshop to make sure that it remains available. Mark told me that nothing was decided yet and that this and other summer courses remained unlisted because of the timeline within which the budget decisions have to be made. We still have an opportunity to influence the selection of summer courses, and I will be following up with Robert and Mark over the coming weeks and hopefully have more to share on this at our information session on February 26th.

This concludes my report from the FFAC meeting. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to respond. Or you can always contact us by email. Thanks for reading!