Letter to the VP Finance & Administration, Phyllis Clark

Last Monday (16 January 2012), the Edmonton Journal published an article in which the Provost of the University of Alberta implied that members of the Faculty of Arts at the University who are challenging the cuts for this budget year and next are “naïve” for not understanding that more money must go to the Faculty of Science because its professors need “expensive labs.” 

The Provost’s remarks made us realize that it is imperative the Administration of the University provide us with answers to our pressing questions about the financial operations of the University. The University of Alberta is a public university, and it would benefit us all — faculty, support staff, and students, and, indeed, all Albertans — if the Administration would furnish us with a clear explanation of how University budget decisions are taken, and why. A letter to Phyllis Clark, the Vice-President of Finance and Administration, posing specific financial questions that would help us understand the rationale of how and where money flows at the University of Alberta has now been written.  If you would like to add your signature to the letter, please let us know.

Here is the text of the letter, with its current signatories:

January 23, 2012

Ms. Phyllis Clark,

Vice President, Finance and Administration

University of Alberta

Dear Ms. Clark,

We are writing to you with an important request. Many of us in the Arts Faculty have been concerned, for many months now, about the budget cuts facing the Faculty. We were informed in the fall that lay-offs of non-academic staff were imminent (in January-February), and that a further budget cut this spring might necessitate the closure or amalgamation of academic programs and lay-offs of academic staff. Our Dean now tells us that she may be able to avert some of these lay-offs due to retirements and other measures. However, the retirees will not be replaced, with negative consequences for the departments concerned.

The Arts Faculty faces ongoing budget shortfalls and program inadequacies due to operating revenues that do not meet its needs, and planning is compromised by unpredictability of revenue levels from one year to the next. Much of this has to do with provincial grants to the university as well as the choices made by the government in terms of which faculties or programs to endow, which capital investments to make, and so on.  However, decisions are also made internally–within the governance structures of the university–and despite the available graphics depicting these decision-making pathways, many questions remain for those who are ultimately the recipients of the decisions.

In Arts, many faculty members feel that we are repeatedly presented with narratives of crisis or budgetary demands about which we lack information. Following a previous round of budgetary cuts, the AASUA negotiated a Memorandum of Agreement with your office intended to give us the financial information we need to take an active part in preventing, or finding solutions to budgetary deficits, and to participate in decisions about funding priorities.

We have appended (page 3) a list of questions about the University’s, and about the Arts Faculty’s current budget situations that can only be answered by the Central Administration. In keeping with the spirit of open and transparent sharing of budget-related information with faculty, and with the objectives of the Joint Committee (VP Finance and Administration and AASUA) on University Planning and Budgets, we count upon your co-operation with this request.

The information may be sent to Laurie Adkin (ladkin@ualberta.ca). It will be made available to the Arts community on Arts Squared <https://artssquared.wordpress.com/about/>.  We know that it will require some staff time to put this information together for us, and we appreciate your staff’s assistance.

Yours sincerely,

Laurie Adkin, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and Environmental Studies BA program

Bert Almon, Professor Emeritus, Department of English & Film Studies

Shyamal Bagchee, Professor, Department of English & Film Studies

Karyn Ball, Professor, Department of English & Film Studies

Ingo Brandt, Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy

Willi Braun, Professor, Department of History & Classics

Ann De León, Assistant Professor, Spanish and Latin American Studies, Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies

Elena del Rio, Associate Professor, Department of English & Film Studies

Michael Frishkopf, Associate Professor, Associate Director of the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology, and Associate Director for Multimedia at FolkwaysAlive!, Department of Music

Andrew Gow, Professor, Director, Religious Studies Program, Department of History and Classics

John-Paul Himka, Professor, Department of History & Classics

Gary Kelly FRSCDistinguished University Professor, Department of English & Film Studies and Comparative Literature Program

Rosalind Kerr, Associate Professor, Department of Drama

Felice Lifshitz, Professor, Women’s Studies

Kathleen Lowrey, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology

Sourayan Mookerjea, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology

James Muir, Assistant Professor, Department of History & Classics and
Faculty of Law

Liza Piper, Associate Professor, Department of History & Classics

Julie Rak, Professor, Department of English & Film Studies

Christian Reyns-Chikuma, Associate Professor
Coordinator of the La Rochelle French Program, Co-editor of Alternative Francophone, and Co-organizer of the international conference on “Media & Media Practices in Minority and Competitive Contexts: From Local to Global” (<http://confmedia.jimdo.com/>)Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies

Victoria Ruétalo, Associate Professor, Spanish and Latin American Studies, Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies

Carolyn Sale, Associate Professor, Department of English & Film Studies

Jane Samson, Professor, Department of History & Classics

Christine Wiesenthal, Professor, Department of English & Film Studies

Janice Williamson, Professor, Department of English & Film Studies

Rob Wilson, FRSC, Department of Philosophy
Project Director, Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada

Cc:  Ian MacLaren, President, AASUA

       Robert Campenot, AASUA representative on the Board of Governors

       Carl Amrhein, Provost and Vice President (Academic)

Budgetary Information needed:

(1)  Process/governance (Please provide as much detail as possible.)

  • What are the criteria used by Central Administration to disperse revenue among the Faculties and Schools of the University of Alberta? That is, what criteria are used to determine the annual total budget allocation for each Faculty or School?
  • Who determines what criteria are used for the allocation of the university’s provincial government revenue among Faculties and Schools of the university? What is the process leading up to the determination of these criteria?
  • How is it decided what percentage budget cut will be borne by each Faculty or School of the university as a result of a general university deficit?

(2)  Statistical/empirical

  • Assuming that the current “structural deficit” of the Faculty of Arts has been incurred due to necessary  or reasonable reasons (for the fulfillment of commitments despite changing circumstances over which the Dean had no control, or for the continued functioning of programs), why has it not been possible to increase the Faculty’s share of university revenue accordingly?
  • Is any other Faculty at the university also in a situation of “structural deficit”?
  • According to budget estimates in the March 2011 Comprehensive Institutional Plan, the operating budget deficit projected for 2011-12 was $4.9 million. What share of that amount has Arts been asked to find?
  • Since 2008, what budget cuts (as percentages of their operating budgets on a year-to-year basis) have been implemented by each Faculty or School of the university?
  • How many professors are there in each Faculty or School of the University, and how many are there in each rank?
  • What is the ratio of full-time teaching faculty (tenured and tenure-track) to full-time undergraduate students in each faculty or school of the university?  What is the ratio of teaching faculty to graduate students enrolled in each faculty or school?  Ditto for the non-academic staff: student ratios.
  • What is the average academic salary in each Faculty or School (including market supplements)?
  •  What is the total per capita budget in each faculty (i.e., the faculty’s operating budget divided by the number of full-time equivalent academic staff)?
  • Across faculties and schools of the university, and including the Central Administration, since 2000, what are the annual percentage figures for changes in expenditures and revenues? What categories are these broken down into? (e.g., for expenditures: academic salaries covered by the contract with the AASUA, market supplements, NASA salaries, supplies and equipment, and for revenues: share of provincial grant to the university, student tuition fees, private donations, etc.)
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2 Responses to Letter to the VP Finance & Administration, Phyllis Clark

  1. Laurie Adkin says:

    February 5th: Still no replies to any of our questions from either the VP Finance and Administration or the President of the AASUA. Do we have a functioning Joint Committee on University Planning and Budgets, or not?

  2. Laurie Adkin says:

    What I’m saying is that the Department of Canadian Heritage is in control of a lot of funding programs . . . and that the decision-making at the department is not transparent, and that the community as a whole doesn’t understand it . . . In the past . . . we had a fairly well established understanding of what the criteria would be for each program . . . and right now . . . the process is quite unclear. We don’t know what the decision-making process is.

    Lucy White, Executive Director of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres, interviewed February 7, 2012, on CBC Radio’s The Current.

    Sound familiar? It doesn’t matter what the organization is, the issue is the same: What is fair? What is democratic? How do we know when our system of governance is democratic?
    In a democracy, you don’t just ask the governed to take your word for it.

    Is the University a democracy? Maybe not, given its current hierarchical structures. But it does have representative government, of a fashion, and a formal commitment to collegial governance and administrative accountability—not only to government, but also to the constituencies that make up the university.

    The university is a big and complex institution; different parts of it have different needs and different revenue-raising capacities. Budget allocations have to accommodate these differences, as well as changing circumstances affecting one unit or another. We understand that although budget-makers have general criteria to respect, they also have to make exceptions to the normal rules from time to time. Indeed, fairness sometimes demands that strict equality not be the deciding factor.

    The purpose of asking (indeed, expecting) transparency regarding budget-making criteria and spending decisions is not to find ammunition for pitting one constituency in the university against another. It is not to embarrass administrators or pillory them for one decision or another that may not have unanimous support. Nor should the selective provision or withholding of budgetary information be used by administrators as a tool to manipulate lower-level managers and the people to whom they are accountable.

    The purpose of full transparency is to make possible an open and inclusive discussion about budgetary priorities as well as full understanding of the reasons underpinning decisions. The purpose is – or should be – to give us the tools we need to work together — to create the conditions in which all sectors of the university can thrive. Our goal should not be competition, but solidarity—among Faculties, as well as among the professoriate, students, and staff. The administration needs to facilitate full information, cooperation, and collective decision-making, in order to truly represent the needs and wishes of the university community. Of course there are going to be differences and conflicts regarding these priorities and needs, but at least we will be able to identify these and look for solutions.

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