McGill announces measures to deal with budget cuts

Posted on Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Photo: John Kelsey

By Doug Sweet

A pay cut for senior administration, a hiring freeze, pay freezes for many employees and an early-retirement program are among the sobering measures Principal Heather Munroe-Blum announced yesterday (Tuesday) to help McGill find the $43 million it must save in order to deal with government-imposed cuts and the University’s own budgetary shortfall.

After broad consultations with the community, Prof. Munroe-Blum said in a note to all staff and students, the administration has advanced a set of measures that will reduce spending, while protecting the core academic and research missions of the University and trying to protect as many jobs as possible down the road.

The administration will see how well the package of freezes, cuts and retirement incentives works in reducing expenditures before deciding in early summer if further cost-cutting measures are required.

“I personally thank all who have contributed helpful cost-savings suggestions during the University-wide consultations,” Prof. Munroe-Blum wrote. “Already $7.5 million of suggested non-salary related cost-savings initiatives are slated for implementation, in addition to on-going savings from our various Strategic Reframing Initiatives. However, given the magnitude of the budget cuts announced by the Government of Quebec combined with the cancellation of tuition increases, we must aim to cut close to $43 million in expenditures primarily in base budget.”

The package the Principal announced consists of the following :

• A 3-per-cent salary cut and salary freeze for all senior administration (Deans and up) will take effect on May 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

• An overall reduction ranging from 7 to 9 per cent in the operating budgets of the Vice-Principals’ portfolios and the Offices of the Principal and Provost.

• A short window will be opened for a voluntary retirement program for eligible administrative and support staff aged 60 and over, with details to be announced on April 2. At this time eligible staff will also receive a letter outlining elements of this program. In addition, the current voluntary retirement program for academic staff will continue.

• A hiring freeze for administrative and support staff, effective April 2.

• A temporary freeze on position-rematch and special salary requests for administrative and support staff, also effective April 2.

In addition the McGill Association of University teachers has agreed to a pay freeze, with the exception of tenure-track assistant professors, who will be eligible for a one-per-cent pay increase in order not to impede their career development. The University has been in touch with other employee groups and asked them for a one-year salary freeze, even if existing contracts call for a pay raise.

“The months ahead will be difficult for everyone,” Prof. Munroe-Blum said. “McGill’s strength stems from the contributions of our talented faculty, students and administrative and support staff. We know the need to reduce our staff levels as a result of these budget cuts will affect the lives and work of many, and we are sorry that these measures, though necessary, will cause distress for members in our community.

“We will provide further clarity with respect to the nature of additional measures as we have it, and I ask you to please bear with us during this time.”

As McGill wrestles with the $38 million the Quebec government has taken out of its funding over the next two fiscal years, other Canadian universities are dealing with similar problems. The University of Saskatchewan announced earlier this week that it is chopping 150 jobs out of a 7,500-person workforce, in order to deal with what was projected to be a $44.5-million budgetary shortfall by 2016. At the University of Alberta, massive cuts to government funding mean that university is suddenly staring at a $67-million budgetary abyss.

“I would like to reassure you that overall, the institution is strong,” Prof. Munroe-Blum’s message said. “McGill’s mission and the academic excellence for which we are known around the world will continue to be our focus and our guide. In these tough times, we will stay the course with the successful academic programs we offer, and, where necessary, develop new means to support our students and professors.”

The key to avoiding or minimizing layoffs will lie in how successful the package of cost-cutting measures will be.

“As salaries and benefits make up more than 75 per cent of the University’s core operating budget, we have difficult decisions before us,” Prof. Munroe-Blum said. “As a first step, to minimize the impact on job losses, we will reduce salary costs through attrition and wage freezes.

“In our community consultations, many of you expressed a willingness to make sacrifices in order to protect jobs, and I thank you for your generous commitment.”


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