Friday, December 19, 2008

  • Work to boost UW revenue, says provost
  • Fresh water dwindling, research finds
  • Memo about employee safety training
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

[Arms spread to greet the crowd]

On skates, they represent Canada in ice dance, winning the world junior bronze medal in 2007 and last month placing seventh in the NHK Trophy event in Japan. Off the ice, they're UW students: Kaitlyn Weaver is in first year arts, and Andrew Poje in third-year science. They've been studying through distance education this term (it's hard to get to class and also show up on the rink in Tokyo and, before that, in Beijing). The pair, who are based at the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club, visited UW's DE centre on Gage Avenue on Wednesday to write their final exams, Weaver in French and Poje in philosophy. Special arrangements were made because they had to miss the regular DE exam day earlier this month.

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Work to boost UW revenue, says provost

It’s “business as usual” as UW plans next year’s budget in the middle of a regional and international financial crisis, provost Amit Chakma said yesterday.

“The situation is more difficult than in previous years, for sure,” Chakma said in a brief interview. But he added that he’s encouraging positive action from colleagues such as the deans, who are responsible for most of the university’s budget. He has advice for them on both the spending (on faculty, staff and other costs) and the revenue (especially the fees paid by the number of students they choose to admit).

There are three main ways the budget can be balanced, Chakma noted: find more income; spend one-time money; make general budget cuts.

The emphasis this year will have to be on boosting UW’s revenue, the provost said. “Focus on international undergraduate students, because that’s where we get money!” One faculty is hoping to bring in several times as many overseas students next fall as it did this year, each of them paying more than $8,000 a term in tuition fees.

Fees from Canadian and foreign students provide around 45 per cent of UW’s total operating funds, with grants from the Ontario government accounting for about the same. The rest of the income comes from miscellaneous sources such as interest on short-term investments and overhead payments attached to research grants. (Investment income is bound to take a hit this year, with interest rates reaching record lows as a side effect of the worldwide economic crisis.)

Officials are following the usual “consultative processes”, Chakma said, to work out proposed fee levels for 2009-10. With input from student leaders, those will come to the university’s board of governors at its February meeting, and once approved, will be a key part of the budget for the coming year, which will likely be presented for board approval in April.

Like universities across North America, Waterloo has been preparing for hard times, with a hiring and spending “postponement” announced this fall and extending at least until the current fiscal year ends on April 30. After that, Chakma said, he does anticipate that there will be some hiring, but he has told faculties and departments to “review all your hiring plans” to see what positions need to be filled and which ones can be postponed still longer.

The result of this year’s austerity might be a bit more “one-time money” than usual that can be thrown into the gap for 2009-10. But it’s not realistic to think that it will solve the whole problem. “I’m pretty sure we have to take a cut,” said Chakma, adding that most likely the university-wide expenditure reduction will be bigger than the 2 per cent cuts in 2008 and 2007.

Potentially the biggest single influence on the UW financial situation, and one over which Chakma has no control, will be the amount of the cheques that the provincial government chooses to provide to universities for the new fiscal year.

“We have to make some assumptions,” the provost said yesterday, “because we’re not getting clear signals.” In an “economic statement” in October, Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan spoke of “restraint”, and since then, the word “flatlining” has been tossed about. It’s not clear what that would mean, Chakma pointed out, since per-student funding from the province has not been increased for many years anyway.

“Business as usual” would be the same basic grant, he said — an amount that falls a little further behind the growth in expenses every year — and then “some amount” to pay for the enrolment growth that the government expects from universities. If no funding for growth shows up, well, “you estimate what is that shortfall” and do a new round of calculations, he said.

“They themselves do not know” what they will do by next spring, he speculated — but “I receive the signal that things are bad and we should be careful!”

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Fresh water dwindling, research finds

a news release from Wilfrid Laurier University

In a Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo study published December 17 in Geophysical Research Letters, researchers reveal significant reductions in available fresh water in western and northern Canada that is unprecedented in the past 1,000 years. The study highlights important challenges for the Alberta oil-sands industry, but suggests that the perceived negative effects of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam on the Peace-Athabasca Delta ecosystem may have been overblown.

The eight-year research project examined the hydroecology of the Peace-Athabasca Delta in northern Alberta – one of Canada’s 15 Unesco World Heritage sites.

“We show that river discharge and lake levels in the delta have varied considerably with climate change for the past 1,000 years,” said Brent Wolfe, associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and lead author of the article. “However, for as long as our modern society has been developing in western Canada, the amount of available water has been ‘subsidized’ by glaciers and high elevation snow packs in the Rocky Mountains. These sources have dwindled to very low reserves and are now on the leading edge of a rapid decline, which is of critical concern to the areas relying on this fresh water for agriculture and industry.”

The research further indicates that water levels began to decline at the beginning of the last century, well in advance of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam construction in 1968, showing that climate is the overwhelming driver of change in the area’s hydrology and ecology. “We do, however, identify an urgent message for those in government and industry who develop water-use policy for the Athabasca River,” said Roland Hall, associate professor of biology at the University of Waterloo, who says the province of Alberta has allocated at least half of the low-flow volume of this river for consumption by the multibillion-dollar oil-sands industry.

“Our studies suggest that rapid declines in river flow and lake levels in some parts of the delta will only accelerate unless stringent water policy is practiced. Because the oil-sands industry is so important to Canada’s economy, it is critical that we use this new information to maximize social benefits while minimizing environmental degradation.”

Current policy decisions about water resource allocation are based on climate records spanning the past 80 years at most. This study will provide policymakers with critical data from the past 1,000 years and identifies the need to modify assumptions that river flows will remain stable.

The study, which began in 2000 in response to multimillion-dollar lawsuits launched by the First Nation communities of Fort Chipewyan against BC Hydro and the Government of Canada, employed a unique array of high-resolution paleohydrological reconstructions. Lake sediment analysis showed the evolution of the relationship between climate and river flows for the major watersheds draining the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. It is one of the most highly funded environmental science projects in Canada in this decade.

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Memo about employee safety training

a memo from UW's safety office

Human Resources, IST and the Safety Office have been working on a program to track safety training and to register UW employees into Safety Office training using myHRinfo self service. The first phase of implementing this process is converting historical data for WHMIS or First Aid training completed through UW’s Safety Office.

Please log onto myHRinfo and verify that the information on your record is correct. Difficulties: e-mail hrhelp@ or call ext. 36121 (but first check the online Frequently Asked Questions page). When you log on, you will see a menu item: Self-Service > Learning and Development > Training Summary. If the WHMIS and/or First Aid training information on your record is not correct, e-mail safety@ or call ext. 35613.

Other classroom and computer-based safety training you have completed will be added to your record in the coming months. Online information is available about registering for classroom-based or computer-based safety training. Upon completion of the session your myHRinfo record will be updated within 24 hours.


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Snow is falling, snow on snow

Yes, UW is open today, and exams are being administered as scheduled, this last day of the fall examination period.

There was much talk yesterday about the city being shut down today by the arrival of what one forecaster was calling "snow-mageddon", and sure enough, the flakes started falling about 7:30 this morning. But UW follows the lead of the Waterloo Region District School Board, which has kept schools open today (though bus transportation is cancelled). So the campuses in Waterloo, Cambridge and Kitchener are open.

As for those exams, detailed schedules and regulations are online. Unofficial fall term grades begin appearing on Quest Monday; grades become official January 26.

The "on-campus, off-campus shuttle" service (formerly RideSafe and WalkSafe) was scheduled to run tonight, but has been cancelled. Service won't resume until January 5.

Tuesday, December 23, will be the last working day at UW for 2008. First working day of 2009 is Monday, January 5, when the winter term begins.

Link of the day

The winter solstice

When and where

Libraries extended hours end today: Dana Porter Library closes 11 p.m. today, Davis Centre library at midnight. Both libraries open Saturday and Sunday noon to 5, Monday and Tuesday 8 to 5.

Feds used book store, Student Life Centre, open today 9 to 5; closed Saturday and next week. Open January 3-4, 9 to 5, and starting January 5, 8:30 to 5:30.

Computer Help and Information Place (CHIP) open 8:00 to 11:45 a.m. and 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. today. Monday 8:00 to 4:30, Tuesday 8:00 to 3:30.

Bookstore, UW Shop and TechWorx, South Campus Hall, closed Saturday and December 24 through January 2; open for winter term rush Saturday, January 3, 12:00 to 4:00; Sunday, 10:30 to 4:30; Monday-Thursday, January 5-8, 9:00 to 7:00. Campus TechShop, Student Life Centre, open Sunday, January 4, 10:30 to 4:30.

Unsilent Night outdoor ambient music holiday event, with support from UW architecture students, all welcome, Monday, December 22, 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., City Hall, 50 Dickson Street, Cambridge.

Monthly payday for faculty and staff members is December 23.

Fee payment deadline for the winter term is December 30 (bank transfer). Classes begin Monday, January 5.

Campus tours for new students Monday, January 5, 10:30 and 1:30; one-hour tours begin at South Campus Hall. Details.

Senate executive committee Monday, January 5, 3:30 p.m., Needles Hall room 3004.

Library books signed out on term loan before the beginning of December are due Wednesday, January 7; return or renew online.

Paul Snyder, information systems and technology, retirement party Wednesday, January 7, 3:30 to 5:30, Laurel Room, South Campus Hall, RSVP

Services Fair aimed at new students Wednesday, January 7, 4:00 to 7:00, Student Life Centre lower atrium. Details.

‘Language as a Complex Dynamic System’ at Renison University College, Thursday, January 8, 7:00 p.m.; guest speaker Diane Larsen-Freeman, University of Michigan; details e-mail jpwillia@

White Coat Ceremony for new pharmacy students, Thursday, January 8, 5:00, Humanities Theatre.


Ron Esch, an electrician in the plant operations department, is working his last day at UW today, and will officially retire January 1 after 18 years on staff.

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