On June 3, the UOITFA held a town hall, with a record-breaking turnout, to consult with our members on two proposals put forward by the University. The first indicated that Ontario Tech University would like faculty to take a voluntary pay freeze, which includes CDI, ATB, and a competitive adjustment, effective immediately. The second option, for those who were thinking of leaving the university, was a voluntary exit package.
UOITFA President Mike Eklund gave a presentation on the University’s current budget situation that included information on estimated enrolment numbers. This presentation also highlighted that despite the current budget situation, the University has maintained surpluses for the last ten years and noted the University’s use of funds to complete capital projects instead of prioritizing the operational costs of the University. During this time of uncertainty, it is appalling that the University has continued to funnel money into questionable capital projects, including proceeding with construction before securing full funding for a new building, while simultaneously proposing that Faculty accept wage freezes and threatening the University community with layoffs and further cuts.
One member noted that cancelling capital projects, such as the new building on North Campus, or deferring them, is a common strategy used to save money or defer spending by universities. It was also noted that layoffs and wage freezes are often a last resort and only one of the many tools available to Senior Leadership for cost reductions. Others questioned why the University was pushing though a building and other capital projects during a pandemic when clearly the University should be prioritizing other costs to ensure the success of students, staff and Faculty as we navigate this challenging time.
Several members noted that Faculty at the University are already participating in cost-saving measures wherever possible and Faculty Members would see no additional funds for the enormous amount of work that went into the transition to emergency remote teaching when the pandemic first began.
Members expressed grave disappointment at the idea that the University would ask Faculty Members to accept a wage freeze, especially as workload demands are increasing. The University’s continued investment in capital projects despite their projected budgetary issues illustrates that the University has the power to stabilize its budget simply by prioritizing people over buildings or tapping into reserves. Many expressed concerns about the University’s willingness to circumvent the UOITFA’s Collective Agreement with these proposals. Members noted that the University must ask itself what is at the core of its mission and invest accordingly.
After an intense but thorough discussion, Faculty Members provided the UOITFA with insight into how best to respond to these proposals. UOITFA members do not consent to opening the Collective Agreement during its term. Members would share ideas for other cost reductions strategies if necessary. A letter to this effect was delivered to the Provost on June 5, 2020.
We would like to that the membership for the frank discussion, their thoughtful remarks, and their advice in crafting a response to these proposals.