By now, I am sure you have read the disturbing news regarding Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister’s as of yet indeterminate plans to cut funding to universities, as well as the public sector, in order to pay for the costs of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since our last update, UWFA has been actively engaged in discussions with the Employer and others to ensure that our collective voice as academics, as teachers and researchers is heard during these troubling times.
Since the teleconference between the public sector and quasi-public sector unions that was held last Tuesday, UWFA has actively engaged with the University to try and determine exactly how our institution will respond to the demand by the province to present proposals for cuts in the order of 10, 20 and 30%. Although in his speech Pallister suggested the cuts would be in place from May-August, the template form that was sent to the University of Winnipeg asked for cuts that could be made in the 2020-2021 fiscal year. To be clear, the University has, at no point suggested that it would be able to cope with budget cuts of even 10% without impacting our ability to deliver programs and services. As you know the UW already has the lowest per capita operating costs than any other university in the province.
UWFA met with the employer on Friday to discuss the Pallister’s proposal to cut university funding. Despite the pressures, the University emphasized its support for our collective agreement. The employer has no plan to declare exigency and without that they cannot alter the terms and conditions of employment that have been agreed to in collective agreements. This includes reducing appointments, imposing unpaid work days, and the like. To reiterate, the Employer has not asked us to do any of these things. The employer has suggested that faculty, due to the nature of our work, could NOT submit to a reduced work week. Faculty workloads have actually increased in the rush to go online to finish the winter term. Further, it is important to note that spring session enrolments have actually increased this year, and this will also occasion another surge in work to turn already existing courses into online versions as quickly as possible. The exact character of the fall session (online, in-class, or hybrid) has yet to be determined.
While the understanding of the government as to what constitute “essential services,” remains unclear, it is our position that cutting post secondary education at this time of crisis, with unemployment levels skyrocketing, would be devastating not only immediately, but in the long term as well. Chris Minaker, the UW’s Senior executive office for external engagement was noted in today’s CBC News “…it is difficult to reduce when the demand for our services is increasing.” Our own UW biologist and President of the Manitoba organization of Faculty Associations (MOFA) added that the proposed cuts were draconian and would result in permanent damage to our institution.
UWFA has been working with MOFA and CAUT to develop a province wide campaign against the Pallister proposal and protect the university’s core mandate, our student’s and their future. No matter the length of the current crisis, this is likely to be a long term battle. Remember, Pallister is calling these drastic budget cuts necessary to fight Covid 19, yet to date there were a total of 253 cases of Covid in Manitoba, 143 of those cases have already recovered and just 8 are in Manitoba hospitals so it is not clear how these two issues can be related. In fact, last fall the Auditor General pointed out that the province faced no deficit and in fact was carrying a surplus, although it was trying to hide that fact.
The battle that Pallister is waging is clearly an ideological one and post secondary education is one of its targets. At a time when most Premiers are trying to help their provinces, ours is using the pandemic to further his political agenda. We encourage our members to take this time to write your MLAs, write op ed pieces for the news, talk to your friends and networks and tell them this is not acceptable. Post secondary education is an essential investment in the future of our students, in our economy and in our future. Using the Covid 19 Pandemic as a screen to cut funding to universities and the public sector is just wrong.
UWFA, as always, is committed to protecting the rights of our members and our collective agreements. If you have any specific questions or concerns, please let us know. I hope you and the people that you care about are doing well. I know that these are difficult times.