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APUO Response to January 31st Budget Update

On January 18th, President Frémont shared a Budget Update with the university community in which he announced the convening of a special meeting of the Board of Governors on January 30, 2024, in light of a newly forecast $48 million operating deficit for the current fiscal year. In explaining the sources of this financial shortfall, he cited chronic government underfunding, the recent Bill 124 salary renegotiations, and the cost of fulfilling uOttawa’s Francophone mission. He also indicated that the Central Administration “will soon be contacting stakeholders, including union partners” about next steps. This message was followed up, on January 31, 2024, by Interim Provost and Vice-President, Academic Affairs, Jacques Beauvais, announcing that the Board of Governors would seek to ensure uOttawa’s financial viability in the near- and medium-term by focusing on:

  1. Optimizing academic activities, including the reviewing of how courses are offered and the university’s recruitment strategy; 
  2. Reviewing the delivery model for support services, including ancillary services and various administrative functions; and
  3. Generating of new revenues, including by offering continuing education courses, new research partnerships, or demand-based programs.

Despite the Central Administration’s claim that it would be contacting stakeholders and union partners to discuss uOttawa’s finances and budgets, the APUO has yet to hear from the Central Administration. Like our Members, the only communication we have received to date about this matter are the Budget Update messages of January 18 and 31. Equally noteworthy, the Administration failed to include the student population on the distribution list for President Frémont’s Budget Update and refused to share details of the special meeting of the Board of Governors with the campus community. In keeping with the lack of transparency and collegiality consistently shown by the Central Administration, neither the APUO’s input nor that of other stakeholders was sought in the planning and establishing of the priorities set out in the latest update. The APUO strongly denounces the Central Administration’s obfuscation.

Given that the Central Administration saw fit to not uphold its expressed commitment to contact campus unions, the APUO is re-iterating its long-held position that, budgets reflect priorities. With this in mind, we remind the Central Administration that: 

  • Education in French is an inherent and integral part of uOttawa’s bilingual teaching and research missions and must be prioritized as such. The APUO demands that the Central Administration stop treating the provision of education in French as a burden, and commit itself to affirming and strengthening French/English bilingualism and the Francophonie in all our programs of study, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
  • Compared to other Ontario universities, uOttawa ranks among those spending the greatest amounts on external consultants and third party contracts.1 The $43 to $51 million dollars set aside for external consultants in each of the previous five years is money that would have been far better and more appropriately invested in supporting uOttawa’s teaching and research missions.2 Equally telling in terms of the Central Administration’s priorities is that its forecast $48 million financial deficit only slight exceeds the estimated $45 million spent on Workday. In keeping with the APUO’s prioritizing of uOttawa’s teaching and research mission, we call for an immediate moratorium on any further spending on consulting and third-party contracts.
  • The APUO likewise demands that expenditures associated with the growth of the Central Administration in recent years be scrutinized to identify efficiencies and savings rather than extending the types of austerity measures with which campus workers and students have had to contend since 2015. The Auditor General of Ontario’s December 2023 Value-for-Money Audit: York University Operations and Capital report found that between 2018 and 2023, the size of York University’s senior administration team had increased by 37% and related compensation expenses by 47%. In keeping with provincial regulations, in the years ahead uOttawa will be subject to a similar audit. In the face of pending financial difficulties, effective leadership that prioritizes our university’s teaching and research mission entails initiating an immediate assessment of the growth in size and total compensation levels of uOttawa’s senior administration in recent years and immediately acting on the results rather than waiting for a provincial audit at some later date.

As a direct consequence of the post-secondary funding policies of the current and previous provincial governments, universities across Ontario are facing a host of deepening financial challenges. The APUO is ready to work alongside the Central Administration in pressing the Ford government for greater investments in Ontario’s university sector. We should be allies on this front. To this end, the APUO endorses the four recommendations set out in the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations’ (OCUFA), Blueprint for Revitalizing Ontario’s Public Universities.

  1. Compounding annual total provincial university funding increases of 11.75 per cent for a period of five years to reach the Canadian average.
  2. Instead of increasing domestic tuition, OCUFA echoes the call of student groups for government to enhance the student assistance budget and convert loans into grants.
  3. A review of Ontario’s provincial funding formula, including the corridor model, with an embedded goal of supporting domestic enrolment growth.
  4. Reversing the planned implementation of the performance-based funding scheme.

The APUO looks forward to directly engaging with the Central Administration about these matters and will, of course, update Members about further developments. If, as President Frémont has said, it is time for this campus to look inward to our true mission as an institution, then surely it is time for the Central Administration to work with the APUO and other campus unions and to get serious about prioritizing uOttawa’s education and research missions.

Additional Reading:

Members may be interested in the following articles published last week on these issues:

1. See “Budget Expenditures on Professional Services and Contracting (2019-2024)” Table in the APUO’s June 2023 Bulletin:

2. See item 1) uOttawa 2023-2024 Budget – Questionable priorities in the APUO’s June 2023 Bulletin: