SFU freezes hiring; seniors program at risk

April 11, 2008

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SFU has implemented an immediate hiring freeze because of cuts in promised funding from the provincial government.      

And the university is considering ending the practice of giving free tuition to seniors (anyone over 60) who are taking full-credit courses.

The program—which attracts about 60 students per year—has long been a source of pride for SFU, and has been growing.

But Pat Hibbitts, vice-president finance, said April 10 that SFU's board of governors is considering a proposal to cut the program to help make up for an unexpected $6.3-million shortfall for the 2008-09 fiscal year.

The shortfall is due to the B.C. government’s surprise 2.6-per-cent cut in 2008-09 operating grants for all universities and colleges, announced March 12.

The hiring freeze applies to all continuing staff and faculty positions except currently vacant positions for which interviews with candidates have already been held or scheduled, and positions funded from external revenue sources.

The freeze will continue until Sept. 30, 2008—when it will be discontinued, extended or modified—while vice-presidents and deans and a financial planning task force consider options for managing further funding reductions.

Said Hibbitts: “Our amended 2008-09 budget, which we’re presenting to the board for approval this month, reduces expenditures by an additional $4.6 million, increases revenues by $500,000 and calls on $1.2 million in cash reserves.

“Plus we anticipate a similar shortfall in our 2009-10 budget without some relief from government to cover inflation and career-progress costs.”

Also under consideration are proposals to add an on-campus parking tax to pay for SFU's U-Pass transit subsidy, to re-examine all discretionary spending such as travel and consulting fees, and to add programs that generate more revenue.

Rob Flemming, New Democratic Party advanced education critic, took aim at the government over the possibility of the end of tuition-free credit courses for seniors.

"I think it's a disgrace that a program that has thrived over 34 years is faced with destroying its original purpose because of the B.C. Liberals' sudden budget cuts.

"There is no way this decision would be even contemplated if the minister for advanced education had honoured his previous budget commitment. To see seniors targeted this way, I think is reprehensible."

Advanced Education Minister Murray Coell reiterated that the universities are still getting increases—just not as much as they had expected.

Coell said the universities were wrong to take the three-year funding plan as hard fact.

"We were the first government in history to do a three-year planning budget, so I think people quickly just assumed that was not just an estimate, that was an actual," he said. "So I think there's a little bit to be learned from that."

Editor’s note: This story was prepared for the SFU News website before the SFU News' May 1 print issue, and may therefore vary in depth and detail from the print version.

See the earlier story.
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