Whig Standard: Group Questions Money Woes (1 May 2010)

Petitions bearing 1,000 names to be presented to school’s Board of Trustees, University Council

Whig Standard, 1 May 2010

A group of Queen’s University students and staff is hoping its petitions over what it sees as looming budget cuts and exclusion from the academic planning process will ultimately be conciliatory.

The Queen’s Students and Employees for Real Academic Planning’s petitions, which bear 1,000 names, were to be presented to the school’s board of trustees last night and the University Council today.

“As critical as we are at this moment because of our sense of incredible frustration, the ultimate goal is to get Queen’s moving forward in a really positive way,” said Frank Burke, a professor of film studies at the university.

Burke said that, over the past 18 months, there have been “indications of tremendous dissension on campus, and it’s growing, too.”

Among other complaints, the group claims the university has exaggerated its financial troubles, including the impact of the recent recession on the university’s coffers.

“The fact of the matter is the board and the administration ran up $125 million debt in building the Queen’s Centre and is now taking money out of the operating budget to fund that, and that has really created a huge hole,” Burke said Friday.

The group fears, among other issues, that budget cuts would result in bigger classes and fewer teachers.

“The decision-making and the way in which the financial crisis has been represented, and the processes which deal with it, have just alienated everybody and there’s tremendous distrust,” said Burke.

Daniel Woolf, the principal of Queen’s University, denied that the school’s financial troubles are being exaggerated.

“We’re certainly not misleading people about that,” Woolf said Friday. “I do think there has been an unfortunate conflation of the financial issues of the university with the academic planning exercise.”

Students started the petition in response to “What Next?”, the academic planning exercise Woolf released in January.

In it, Woolf outlines proposals about the future of academics at Queen’s. Last week, Woolf sent out an e-mail to the Queen’s community clarifying the intent of the academic planning exercise.

“We are in difficult financial circumstances, and we do need to make some rational choices about how we allocate resources,” Woolf said. “I would much rather make those rational choices on the basis of a coherent academic plan, which is what we’re doing.”

Burke said there’s a sense that the input of faculty and students concerning the proposals is being ignored.

“It’s quite conceivable that we didn’t get absolutely all the consultation at the ground level over the last few months that we could have or should have, but I would also point out that this is just the beginning of the process,” Woolf said.

“The train hasn’t left the station, it’s still boarding.”

Woolf said that a first draft of the school’s academic plan will be written over the summer, and that more input will be sought this fall before a final draft is composed.

“I’m really concerned about the level of anger just growing, growing and growing to the point where there’s serious, serious problems on campus,” Burke said.

“I would like the petition to be part of the constructive turn-around.”

[Note: Queen’s Trainwreck Coming? responds to this article.]

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