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Wpg Sun: Op-ed on labour and financial situation at U of M

November 1, 2016 — 

The following is an op-ed written by James Blatz, professor of civil engineering. It was originally published in the Winnipeg Sun on Nov. 1, 2016.


A perfect storm is brewing at the University of Manitoba that will cast a stark light on a post-secondary system that is suffering through years of chronic under funding fuelled by a misguided tuition freeze policy instituted by the former NDP government.

The financial position at post-secondary institutions in Manitoba is approaching a financial breaking point after more than a decade of being forced to operate with no control over revenues given the provincial operating grant and tuition revenues were dictated by the province and at the same time institutions having no control over expenses like salaries, utilities and technology that are driven by external market conditions. The revenue and expenses have been on a collision course for years and were temporarily kept at bay with expense reductions from operational efficiencies. Only when faced with the obvious failure of the tuition freeze policy objectives did the former NDP government allow tuition increases indexed to inflation which is ridiculous given the major expenditures by universities are for goods and services far different than the typical consumer goods like bread and milk for which the cost of living index is established.

As the University delivered its annual budget both the University of Manitoba Faculty Association and the Canadian Federation of Students were howling at the reality being faced with proposed operating cuts that are required to ensure the institution meets its legislated requirements of a balanced budget. The rhetoric of “supporting students versus buildings” was central to the diatribe as an intentional distraction from the elephant in the room that is driving the situation.

The fact of the matter is that with the third lowest tuition in the country students are not paying their fair share in Manitoba compared to other jurisdictions. As the primary beneficiaries of the education that they receive, students should appreciate the value of the investment they are making to receive the degree that will define the well-being of their families in decades to come.

The Faculty Association is not recognizing the reality either. In an age of increasing expectations of value for public spending they are harbouring age old ideologues that simply have no place in current society. In an effort to expedite a negotiated settlement and avert the potential for strike action (which began Tuesday), the University proposed salary terms, amongst others, in early fall that were flatly rejected by the Faculty Association for concerns over the University pursuing performance measurement of faculty members and review of teaching loads. The idea that a faculty member shouldn’t expect to be subject to performance measurement in today’s world, as practically every other public and private sector worker would be, is preposterous.

Instead the Faculty Association perpetrated what it has historically done in the past to obfuscate negotiations to ensure that a strike mandate is obtained during the mid-term season to hold the student’s hostage in its efforts to create leverage against administration. As a faculty member, I find it despicable that students would be used in this manner. The UMFA campaign entitled “We Make UofM Happen” only exemplifies the height of arrogance driving those pushing the strike to happen. One wonders if some of the issues are being overemphasized to distract from the UMFA salary proposal of 6.9% in a single year which would be a stretch in a Utopian world, let alone how absurd the proposal is given the obvious fiscal realities the province is facing. It is hard to imagine what typical commuters might think as they are held up by picket lines with academics making six figure salaries fighting against the notion of performance measurement and working conditions.

If the Canadian Federation of Students and the University of Manitoba Faculty Association want to truly support improving the financial situation for the post-secondary system that would both provide increased benefits for academics and students, they would turn their attention to the newly elected

provincial government and make the case for increased funding while accepting appropriate tuition increases to support the improvements they so desire. The challenge with that approach is that the new provincial government will understand the former NDP government has created a monster by artificially limiting tuition throughout their mandate that cannot be easily overcome in one fell swoop. The failure of UMFA and CFS to focus their efforts on advocating appropriate funding for the post-secondary system over the past decade is now being felt and it is high time they step up and accept responsibility for their failures and cease attempting to distract from the reality that is a system that simply does not have the resources to fund all their collective demands.


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