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University of Victoria raises tuition, cuts staff in bid to erase deficit

University of Victoria students will pay more for less this year as school officials work to erase a projected $4-million deficit, faculty and staff say.
The University of Victoria's McPherson Library, the campus's main library, is a bustling place well into the evening.

University of Victoria students will pay more for less this year as school officials work to erase a projected $4-million deficit, faculty and staff say.

The board of governors has approved a balanced budget of $314 million for 2013-14 with a two per cent tuition hike and a four per cent cut to all departments and faculties.

Union officials say the cuts will result in bigger classes, fewer teaching assistants and a general decline in quality. At the same time, a typical full-time undergraduate student faces a $99 increase in tuition to $5,058 a year.

“Students are paying significantly more and, in my opinion, getting less,” said Melissa Moroz of the Professional Employees Association.

The university plans to eliminate most of its deficit by cutting 82 of its 4,500 faculty and staff. School officials say 36 of those positions are already vacant. They hope to limit layoffs by relying on retirements and voluntary departures.

But Moroz said about 25 of her members — some with more than 20 years of experience — have received layoff notices. They include computer specialists, scientific assistants and program managers.

A large number of sessional instructors also lost their jobs or now teach fewer classes as reflected in a 17 per cent drop in union dues collected by CUPE Local 4163, said president Greg Melnechuk.

CUPE Local 951 president Doug Sprenger said 35 of his members had their jobs eliminated or their hours reduced, including staff in accounting and student admissions.

Many of the layoffs began April 1, the start of the fiscal year.

“I’ve been president of CUPE 951 for more than 20 years and this is the first time that UVic has ever cut this deeply,” Sprenger said. “All the departments were saying they were already cut to the bone and this now cuts into the bone.”

The university blames the cuts on rising costs, negotiated staff salary increases and reduced grants from the B.C. government. It expects to get $441,000 less from the province this year with further annual cuts of $1.8 million and $2.2 million to come.

“These are difficult financial times,” said Gayle Gorrill, vice-president of finance and operations. “We are trying to do what we can to be able to use our resources wisely, [and] make sure that we continue to deliver quality services to our students.”

Budget documents show that students can expect larger class sizes. “Teaching will be impacted due to a reduction in the number of departmental teaching assistants, resulting in fewer tutorials and fewer courses with labs,” the documents say.

The university library and learning and teaching centre also will reduce services.

Doug Baer, president of the UVic faculty association, said reducing the number of teaching assistants will have a “double-barrelled” impact. It will drive away graduate students who rely on the jobs for money and training, and erode undergraduate education because professors will no longer have time to assess students’ written work.

“Professors are going to be pushed to engage in marking with multiple- choice exams in courses where that may not be the most appropriate way of assessing student performance,” he said.