Thursday, November 6, 2008

  • No plans for layoffs, executives say
  • Pensions safe; no early retirement
  • UW 'being tested', Johnston tells crowd
  • A sorrow, an award, some progress
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

No plans for layoffs, executives say

No, no, there are no plans for staff layoffs when UW enters its next fiscal year in May 2009. The university’s top executives, president David Johnston and provost Amit Chakma, made that point repeatedly during yesterday’s “town hall” meeting, which drew nearly 500 staff and faculty members to the Humanities Theatre in late afternoon.

“We will explore every possible avenue to avoid that possibility,” said Chakma, answering a question that had been submitted online by staff in the days leading up to the meeting, and was posed to him on the Humanities stage by vice-president (external affairs) Meg Beckel.

“We’ll do our very best to avoid layoffs,” Johnston agreed. Both leaders pointed out that the central purpose of a hiring “postponement” that’s in effect for the rest of the current fiscal year, as announced in late October, is to “increase our flexibility” and make drastic measures, such as layoffs, unnecessary.

“We don’t know what the future holds,” Chakma conceded, but he’s relying on some savings in the rest of 2008-09, plus active steps to build up the university’s income.

Later in the 90-minute meeting, discussion returned to the spectre of job losses, as a staff member sitting in the packed theatre asked what the procedure would be if UW did, after all, have to lay people off next year. Chakma replied that budget cuts would likely be made across the board, with deans and department heads left to decide how to trim spending — and, in the last extremity, what jobs to eliminate — in their own areas.

A section of UW’s Policy 18 on staff employment deals with redundancies, said Catharine Scott, the associate provost (human resources and student services). She told people there’s no need to read it now, because administrators aren’t thinking of invoking it, but promised that it offers “a very generous notice period” and other benefits to staff whose jobs might be threatened.

Staff and faculty members articulated some of their other worries during yesterday’s town hall meeting, though they took time to laugh occasionally too, especially when the president and the provost jokingly blamed each other when BlackBerry beeps kept interrupting the proceedings. They asked a number of questions about specifics of the current hiring postponement, including a few that were addressed in Monday’s memo to managers from the human resources department. A few questions dealt with special situations, including the different ways that rules apply to "regular" and contract or "contingent-on-funding" positions. At least one questioner was advised to follow up privately to be sure of getting the right advice for her situation.

The provost was asked what criteria will be used in deciding on exceptions to the no-hiring rule over the next few months. Officials originally thought of defining a set of standards, he said, but “decided to use common sense”. For example, it was a no-brainer to go ahead and hire someone to teach a pharmacy lab that needs to be offered to second-year students in the winter term. “That’s mission-critical.”

Late in the meeting, one question was about the money that’s saved if a position falls vacant this year and isn’t filled, at least for the present: who gets it? “The goal here is to save money,” said the provost, adding that departments shouldn’t promptly blow it on computers or “toys” — the “discretionary spending” that’s also banned by last month’s memo. “I expect managers to keep that money in reserve,” he said, but it won’t come back to the central UW budget: “I have given my commitment to exec council members that whatever money they save, they can keep.”

Back to top

Pensions safe; no early retirement

The topic that was mentioned most often in questions submitted for yesterday's town hall meeting was pensions. Responding to the central question of them all — whether pensions are safe — provost Chakma gave what he called “an emphatic and positive answer”: yes.

Because UW has a defined benefit pension plan, in which individuals’ retirement income is based on a formula involving salary and years of service, any weakness in the pension fund is a problem for management to deal with, not a threat to individual pensions, he said.

When it was officially valued at the end of last year, the UW pension fund had a slight surplus, the provost said. With the stock market sag that began early this fall, “on a billion-dollar plan we went down by about $100 million,” he said, with further drops as the market staggered lower in October. But the university has years before that shortfall has to be addressed, and markets could look much better by that time. At worst, it might be necessary at some point to increase the level of contributions going into the pension plan, he said.

Similarly, yesterday's audience was told, employee and retiree health benefits aren’t going to be affected by the chilly economic climate, and salary increases that will be due next spring will proceed normally.

People have been asking about the possibility of an early retirement plan, Chakma also said, but “we suffered from the exit of talent” when such a plan took away more than 300 senior staff and faculty members in 1996, and it took years before any actual savings resulted. “It would be the last thing that I’d support,” he told the audience.

Asked about workload, Chakma agreed that it "has been increasing over the years,” and noted that the best way to measure the amount of work to be done by UW’s people is the ratio of students to faculty and staff. “It is appropriate to recognize that,” he said, adding that executive council, the university’s top officials, is having another round of discussions about “efficiencies” and how to reduce “layers of decision-making” that soak up people’s time. “If you have ideas how we can improve what we do, I would be delighted to hear from you,” the provost said.

Responding to a follow-up question about how faculty members are supposed to balance more research work, more graduate students, and teaching for more undergraduates, Johnston wouldn't identify one as the top priority. "I would suggest," he said, "that each of us in our departments look at our entire workloads . . . undeniably there's pressure."

Back to top

UW 'being tested', Johnston tells crowd

For the next few months, UW mostly waits to find out what the Ontario government can, and will, do for higher education in 2009-10, president Johnston told the town hall meeting. “We’re highly dependent for our budget on government operating grants,” he said, noting that the province is under severe financial pressure, but has projected a budget deficit for the current year rather than immediately slashing its spending. “I think we’re dealing with a government that is very understanding,” he said, confiding that he sat next to premier Dalton McGuinty during a four-hour meeting in China last week and did his best to sound him out on what lies ahead.

Meanwhile, said the president, there are some things that UW can do to help itself — “recognize that there will be some hardships,” yes, but “set our priorities” and work to “enhance our resources wherever we can”. Some examples? Meet next year’s enrolment targets, including the one for international students, which wasn’t reached this September; expand graduate programs, especially “professional” or “course” master’s degrees; seek to keep the gifts coming in from alumni and other friends.

“This is a wonderfully good community,” said the president, “and we’re being tested a little bit.”

Provost Chakma picked up that theme when he was asked how UW will plan for the years ahead and the possibility of a long-lasting recession in Ontario. “We should not give up our dreams and aspirations,” he said. “Let’s also do what we can to continue to raise funds for research projects, for scholarships and so on.”

Said Johnston: “We’ll ask our colleagues to do what we always do to make the student experience as good as we can,” in spite of short-term losses of people or resources.

"At this point we do not see any claw-back on our research grant revenue," VP Beckel said in answer to a question, though she urged researchers to "redouble" their efforts to bring in more grant revenue. Johnston reminded the audience that, on average, a dollar of outside research funding brings an extra 23 cents of "overhead" funding for administrative and utilities costs.

There's some sign, he said, that the automotive industry is actually interested in increasing its research activity because of the economic downturn, and that could present new opportunities for the university.

Back to top

A sorrow, an award, some progress

[Wagner wearing headphones]A funeral service will be held Saturday for UW staff member Shannon Wagner, who died Sunday, aged 38. She is well known across campus from eight years in successive roles in the registrar's office (she's pictured, right, in action during spring convocation last year). In May of this year she became administrative assistant to the associate provost (academic and student affairs), including the new academic integrity office. Says the obituary notice issued by the family: "She was a member of the Kings Royal Regiment of New York and was an avid period clothing designer and seamstress extraordinaire. Shannon had a love for gardening, nature and animals. She enjoyed baking and riding her motorcycle. Shannon was in her final term of a distance education Honours BA from the University of Waterloo. Beloved wife of Robert Wagner whom she married April 1, 1989. Friends and relatives are invited to a celebration of Shannon's life at Mark Jutzi Funeral Home, 291 Huron Street, New Hamburg, on Saturday, November 8, for visitation from 1:00 p.m. until the time of the service at 2:00 p.m. As expressions of sympathy, donations may be made to Canadian Mental Health Association or Humane Society of Kitchener-Waterloo."

John Milloy, Ontario's minister of training, colleges and universities, is the recipient of the 2008 Chancellor John B. Sweeney Award for Leadership in Catholic University Education and will accept it tonight during a reception at St. Jerome's University's annual Feast. The Sweeney Award was created to honour the contribution and continuing commitment of Catholic institutions, leaders and educators to the cause of post-secondary education in Canada. "It also recognizes," a news release explains, "the ongoing need for a Catholic presence and voice in shaping future leaders and engaging in the challenging issues facing the world today. The award is named for John Sweeney, who was an exemplary Catholic leader and educator, and the first lay Chancellor of St. Jerome's University. A graduate of St. Patrick Catholic elementary school and the former St. Jerome's High School in Kitchener, Milloy was first elected a Member of the Provincial Parliament for Kitchener Centre in 2003. He was re-elected in 2007 and was appointed minister of training, colleges and universities last fall. He is past director of public affairs for the Centre for International Governance Innovation, and has written on both international history and governance in the information age, recently publishing The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 1948-1957: Community or Alliance. The Feast, by invitation, starts tonight at 6:30 at St. Jerome's.

Things are moving along, though slowly, for the Photovoltaic Research Centre (PRC), the new building between Matthews Hall and the smokestack. “There have been delays, but the progress has been steady so far," says Siva Sivoththaman of the department of electrical and computer engineering, who is the Director of the Centre for Advanced Photovoltaic Devices and Systems that will occupy the ground floor of the PRC building. “We are now installing the laboratory tools and hope to complete that task by end of the fall term." The PRC was originally designed as a 15,000-square-foot building for use by Sivoththaman’s CAPDS, and technical personnel have had access to the building setting up the lab for a good year now. Two upper levels were later added and are being made ready for other Faculty of Engineering uses — in fact, some energy researchers from mechanical and mechatronics engineering have already started occupying the upper floors. The $12 million CAPDS portion of the building (plus extensive equipment inside it, not to mention solar test rack to be installed on the roof) was financed by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Innovation Trust, plus an in-kind donation from Spheral Solar Power (ATS-SSP) that will provide device fabrication facilities for solar cells, testing and measurement facilities, and other technical resources. Work on the project started two years ago, though obviously the current three-storey PRC is different from the 2006 version. An opening ceremony for the PRC will likely be held next year, Sivoththaman said.


Back to top

Link of the day

'Men Make Dinner Day'

When and where

Linux Install Fest celebrating new versions of several operating systems, 10:00 to 4:00, Student Life Centre multipurpose room. Details.

Career workshop: “Business Etiquette and Professionalism” 3:30 p.m., Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

A to Z Dining Experience organized by UW Recreation Committee, 5:00, Ben Thanh Viet Thai Restaurant.

Waterloo Public Interest Research Group presents Marianne Park, DisAbled Women’s Network, “The Reality of Women with DisAbilities”, 5:30 p.m., Student Life Centre multipurpose room.

Sociology Society student-prof mixer 5:30 to 7:00, PAS building lounge.

Global Queer Cinema film series in conjunction with Fine Arts 290: “I Am My Own Woman”, 1992, 6:30 p.m., East Campus Hall room 1220.

Shopping weekend in Erie, Pennsylvania, sponsored by UW staff association, November 7-9. Details.

Psychogeographies Graduate Student Conference “The Terrain of Spectacle and Affect” at University of Guelph, November 7-8. Details.

Information systems and technology professional development seminar: “What’s Going On in IT at Other Universities” Friday 9:00, IST seminar room.

Lessingfest organized by Waterloo Centre for German Studies: lunch, lecture, bus to Stratford, performance of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s “Emilia Galotti” in German at Avon Theatre, supper, discussion, Friday 11:30 to 8:00, tickets $60, students $30, information est. 33684.

Recreation and leisure studies research seminar: Michael Kanters, North Carolina State University, “School Sports and Childhood Obesity” and “Investigating Places for Active Recreation in Communities” Friday 1:30, Lyle Hallman Institute room 1621.

Knowledge Integration seminar: Jean Becker, elder-in-residence, Wilfrid Laurier University, “Indigenous Education Coming Full Circle”, Friday 2:30, Environment II room 2002.

Comic City Film Series linked to “Dominion City” exhibition in Render (UW art gallery): “The Adventures of Oswald the Rabbit” and “Toy Story” (1995) with introductory comments by Peter Trinh, Friday 6:00, East Campus Hall gallery.

Warrior sports this weekend: Badminton (men and women) vs. Ryerson, Saturday 10 a.m., PAC. • Women’s hockey vs. Queen’s Saturday, vs. UOIT Sunday, both days 2:00, Icefield. • Men’s hockey vs. Guelph, Saturday 7:30, Icefield. • Basketball (men and women) at Queen’s Friday, at Royal Military College Saturday. • Volleyball (men and women) at Western Saturday, at Windsor Sunday.

St. Jerome’s University Lectures in Catholic Experience: Mark McGowan, St. Michael’s College, “Refusing Fulton Sheen: The Challenge of Religion on Canadian Television” Friday 7:30 p.m., Siegfried Hall.

Warrior Weekend activities in Student Life Centre, Friday and Saturday evenings. Details.

Niagara Falls visit and winery tour sponsored by International Student Connection, Saturday, bus leaves Davis Centre 9 a.m., tickets $24 at Federation of Students office.

Math Society charity ball Saturday from 6:00, Federation Hall, tickets at Math Society office, proceeds to Grand River Hospital Foundation.

Remembrance Day services Tuesday, November 11: ceremony sponsored by Engineering Society, 10:30 a.m., Carl Pollock Hall foyer; service including minute of silence and multi-faith prayers for peace, 10:45 a.m., Student Life Centre great hall.

Faculty of Arts public lecture: Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapirisat Kanatami, “Inuit and the Canadian Arctic: Sovereignty Begins at Home” Tuesday, November 11, 7:00, MacKirdy Hall, St. Paul’s College, RSVP online.

Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema November 13-16, Gig Theatre, 137 Ontario Street North, Kitchener, co-sponsored by Federation of Students, Ctrl-A (Club That Really Likes Anime) and others. Details.

Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ presented by UW department of drama, Theatre of the Arts, November 13-15 and 20-22 at 8 p.m., plus preview by invitation, November 12 at 7 p.m., school matinees November 14 and 21 at 12:30, tickets $12 (students $10) at Humanities box office.

Exchange program information sessions aimed chiefly at first-year and second-year students: Environment, Monday, November 17, 1:30, Environment I room 2006; Arts, November 17, 4:30, Humanities room 373; AHS, November 18, 3:30, Lyle Hallman Institute room 1633; Science, November 18, 5:30, CEIT room 1015; Mathematics, November 19, 4:00, Math and Computer room 5158.

Jewish Studies program presents Jeremy Dauber, Columbia University, “Comedy Tonight: Jewish Humour in Television and Film”, Monday, November 17, 7:30 p.m., Siegfried Hall, St. Jerome’s University.

Balsillie School of International Affairs launch reception Thursday, November 20, 5:30 to 7:30, 57 Erb Street West, by invitation.

Orchestra @ UWaterloo concert: “Alexander to Zoltan, Music of 3 Centuries”, with competition winner Martin Walker, flute (Mozart Flute Concerto No. 1), Thursday, November 20, 8:00, Humanities Theatre.

One click away

'Good reading' suggestions from staff of the writing clinic
York U cancels classes as strike begins
Student senators' open letter about proposed UAE campus
Imprint reports on UAE discussion at board of governors
Tamil graduate student deported (Imprint)
Cambridge angles to get Venice's art festival
Forerunner Project film festival this week
McGuinty helps celebrate Nanjing partnership
U of Guelph cutting more than 140 jobs
York U to stop cancelling classes on Jewish holidays
Higher pay 'enticing' Canadian graduates to the US
'Universities eye painful cuts in wake of crisis' (Globe)
UW graduate's award as Innovator of the Year (Imprint)
Academic salaries: Canada's are highest to start with

Yesterday's Daily Bulletin