U of S ag college hit by $1.9 million budget cut

Agriculture dean says college generates up to 50 percent of the university’s research income with only seven percent of faculty

Officials at the University of Sask-atchewan are continuing to assess the impact of provincial budget cuts announced March 22.

Included in the budget was a 5.6 percent reduction in provincial funding to the university’s annual operating budget allocation, the equivalent of more than $18 million a year.

Those cuts will be spread out across all colleges at the university with some colleges seeing minor reductions and others taking a relatively large hit.

The College of Agriculture and Bioresources will see its annual operating allocation shrink by more than 11 percent, nearly double the university average.

Ag-West Bio president Wilf Keller recently criticized the cuts to agriculture and bioresources, calling them “extremely harsh medicine” for the university’s most productive college.

“While it is certainly recognized that we are in an era … of restraint in an effort to balance the provincial budget, it is absolutely shocking that the University of Saskatchewan singled out the College of Agriculture and Bioresources for a double-digit budget cut,” Keller wrote in an April 5 Ag-West Bio blog.

“What is the rationale for such a draconian reduction? This is close to double the overall reduction to the university budget that was announced on March 22 by the government of Saskatchewan. This is extremely harsh medicine, administered to the most productive college within the university system.”

Mary Buhr, dean at the agriculture college, said she and others are assessing the cuts, which will cost her college more than $1.9 million a year.

“Honestly, we haven’t made any really firm decisions yet but we’ve been working like crazy looking at all of our options,” Buhr said.

“But it’s a really significant cut when you stop and think about taking an 11 percent cut to your college’s operating income.”

Although the province made the decision to cut the university’s overall operating allocation by 5.6 percent, the decision to reduce the college of agriculture’s budget allocation by 11 percent was made at the university level.

Buhr said her college will be looking for ways to reduce operating costs while minimizing the impact on programming, student enrolment and research capacity.

In the short-term, the college may be forced to use reserve funds to cover operating shortfalls. The funds were set aside to cover extraordinary expenses.

Beyond that, the college is contemplating a hiring freeze on all staff positions except for those deemed “absolutely essential.”

It is also considering changes to support programs for new faculty members and will look for new ways to offer classes, labs and field courses more effectively,” Buhr said.

Over the past five years, the college of agriculture has led the university in terms of increasing undergraduate enrolment, which has swelled to more than 1,200 last fall from 800 in 2011-12.

Buhr said the college is also the university’s most significant research engine.

It generates 30 to 50 percent of the university’s annual research income despite having only seven percent of its faculty.

Buhr acknowledged that university decision makers had very little time to respond to the provincial budget.

“This cut (the 5.6 percent reduction announced by the province) comes into effect at the end of April and it was announced on March 22. So the university had very little time to really adjust to this.”

The university’s decision to allocate a larger share of the provincial cut to the college of agriculture was based on the fact that the college is strong, successful and has a more diverse base of financial resources at its disposal.

As a result, it is better equipped than other colleges to handle a disproportionately large share of the provincial budget cut.

The college will continue meeting with senior university administrators to discuss strategies for dealing with future cuts, Buhr added.

“The college wouldn’t be in this position if the province hadn’t cut funding to the university, so moving forward, it’s very important that we know the priorities of the province,” she said.

“We’re still very well supported by the province, compared to other universities, so I wouldn’t want to downplay that, but we will have to move to other sources of income (if the university continues to lose provincial support). We’re determined to keep agriculture at the top of the provincial agenda, but if (the cuts) continue, it will change the way we do things.”

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