With declining enrolment numbers and a structural deficit of roughly $3 million, the Faculty of Arts & Humanities is at a crux. To move forward, collective support across the faculty is needed, according to Western administrators and faculty leadership.
“We’ve been trying very hard to get more students to enrol. We’ve had various strategies that we’ve employed, including new programs and new courses. But there’s a North America-wide trend for people not to be taking arts and humanities courses, and we’re seeing the effects of that,” said Michael Milde, Dean of Arts & Humanities.
Last week, Janice Deakin, Provost and Vice-President (Academic), outlined these effects to university Senators prior to the governing body approving the budget 39-19. The budget now heads to the Board of Governors for final approval on May 4.
Between 2010-11 and 2016-17, undergraduate course registration in Arts & Humanities has declined by 9 per cent, Master’s enrolment by 22 per cent and doctoral enrolment by 11 per cent. During that same period, the full-time faculty complement has increased by 5 per cent and faculty budget increased by 4.1 per cent.
“The problem is, we have a structural deficit. Expenses are not in balance with the revenue and, as a result of that, the Faculty of Arts & Humanities has accumulated a $13-million debt,” Deakin told Senate.
At this point in the budget cycle, the goal is to address the faculty’s structural deficit of roughly $3 million, she added. The faculty will have to reduce expenses where possible while the university has agreed to supplement the Arts & Humanities budget with $1.8 million from central resources in each of the next two years.
“Compared to last year – this (academic) year that is finishing – we will have $1 million less in our limited-duties budget,” Milde added, noting the goal is to balance the faculty’s budget by 2019.
“The effect on us is we’re losing a fair number of limited-duties contract personnel who will not be renewed next year. There will be losses in certain subjects, like writing and languages, which are primarily taught by limited-duties personnel. That’s a challenge for us. It’s a problem for me, as well. I’m not pleased to be cutting limited-duties sections, but people also need to understand this is temporary situation,” he continued.
“This action is the first step. You can’t stop there; you have to keep moving. I fully expect some people who are not getting a contract this year will see things in the future as we reorganize the faculty’s offerings. I can’t promise that, but I would like some help delivering. We have to find a way to rebalance the faculty’s teaching resources.”
The long-term goal is to reorient the faculty using all resources at its disposal – both full-time and part-time – in order to strike a balance between enrollment numbers and teaching resources.
Faculty members and Senators, however, pushed back on the Arts & Humanities budget.
Prior to the meeting, Senators were greeted by a small group of quiet demonstrators questioning the budget. During the meeting, Deakin was handed an online petition highlighting the ramifications of possible cuts to the faculties. Signed by more than 700 people, and initiated by a graduate student in the faculty, the petition read: “Western University’s Board of Governors is undervaluing Arts professors and students. Despite challenges from (Arts & Humanities) students and faculty, Western’s Faculty of Arts & Humanities, in connection with the Board, is making budget cuts to the tune of $1.5 million over the next two years.”
The petition indicated two significant effects of this are the “abrupt removal” of limited-duties faculty and an expansion of class sizes.
Senators echoed some of the concerns expressed in the petition.
“With faculties undergoing financial difficulties, how do they renew themselves under austerity conditions? The philosophy with this administration is to put them under an austerity regime,” said Nick Dyer-Witheford, who teaches in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies.
“It is impossible to square a circle of austerity and renewal. (They’re) not in a situation to initiate new programs, which can require new faculty or existing faculty to create. This is a downward vicious spiral. Problems to specific faculties require collaborative work of all the faculties.”
And on the collaboration front, Milde agrees.
“Everybody is going to be involved in the faculty – all faculty members and chairs, and the Dean’s office. We’re trying to figure out how to best reorient the faculty to strike that balance. Everybody understands the seriousness of the situation, but when we’re coping with a North America-wide trend, it’s going to need some reorientation,” he said.
One misunderstanding that has come up with budget pushbacks is the view that central administration is leaving the faculty in a lurch when, in fact, it has supported a variety of programs in efforts to increase enrollment, Milde continued.
As for the petition, some factual inaccuracies perpetuated pushback.
“The one that really bothered me was the misrepresentation of our class sizes. We are losing a fair number of courses next year, and some teaching capacity, but the suggestion our already massive courses are going to get even larger is just wrong. A quick peek at the data book would show the average size of our classes is 25 and some 30-35 per cent of our classes have 10 or fewer,” he said.
“I worry people are extenuating the negative when we’re still a strong, vibrant faculty. Our task is to reorient ourselves, not drive ourselves into the ground. Many of those (criticisms) are based on the mistaken understanding of how things are situated. The fact is, we’ve lost a lot of enrolments and yet we have more faculty than we had even six years ago. There’s an imbalance there and that’s what needs to be corrected.”
To reorient the faculty while continuing to offer quality courses and programing will require a collaborative effort, Milde stressed.
“We have to be smart in how we reorganize the teaching resources we have available to us. The criticisms are well-intentioned, but misguided. They’re hurting the faculty rather than helping it. I think they should get behind the project of thinking about what the faculty should look like in the future, given the realities on the ground. The arms folded across your chest saying ‘hell no’ is not helpful.”