Slimming the budget, post-Voluntary Departure Program
The window for university staff to accept Concordia’s Voluntary Departure Program (VDP) and leave their positions early in exchange for financial packages recently closed. All in all, about 90 members took the offer—well behind the 180 spots available.
The VDP was one of many ways the university planned on cutting back on its costs in light of the continuing government cuts to education, estimated at $15.7 million for Concordia this year alone. The VDP was open to staff, but not faculty. One particular segment of employees that eagerly accepted the offer was the library support staff.
“We’d heard from the community that there were a few people who were kind of on the fence, and keeping in mind this is a major life decision, we opened it up for a second week,” said Concordia President Alan Shepard on his decision to extend it by an extra week.
Most takers are expected to leave by Nov. 30, with the remainder leaving between then and the end of the fiscal year, depending on the nature of their positions.
“This tells me a couple of things. One is that people like working at Concordia; there’s no rush of people trying to escape. It tells me that this is a major life decision…What we’re going to do right now is that we’ve accepted those 90 people, and we’ve had a number of other positions become vacant by virtue of people resigning or having already retired. In the course of the year we’ll have several hundred positions become open, and we’ve frozen those for now while we figure out what our next steps are.” Shepard said it’s likely some vacancies would be closed, but the way forward would be carefully thought out.
“It’s not a great idea to try and shrink the staff. That being said, I have a lot of respect for my colleagues who devised the program,” he added, saying there hadn’t been any complaints in the offers. “It’s a complex balancing act.”
Shepard said 30 positions in the future might be re-hired because of the needed roles they play but wouldn’t say what the conditions and pay would be for returnees.
To cope with the new budget, and the estimated $1 million in additional cuts is predicted to come in the near future; the school is now looking for other avenues of cost-cutting.
“We have a fairly clear idea of where the cuts are coming from: they’re coming from the VDP, from the closed positions, some of them are coming from reductions in the contingency fund—every organization our size has a certain amount of money kept for unexpected costs.” Currently, he says that’s around $4 million, a number that will dip to around $1.5 and will have to be built back up in the future. He also says $2 million will be saved on deferred computer purchases or upgrades.
The austerity mindsets with the current government has hit not just Concordia, but all Quebec universities, and it’s provoked widespread criticism from both institutions, bystanders, and students.
“We’re going too far, too fast in terms of the compressions,” said Shephard. “These are extremely complex places to run and we care deeply about the quality and opportunities for students, staff, and faculty.”
“We’re taking a stance privately. You don’t see this, because it’s done by phone calls and face-to-face meetings. I’ve met with our minister and deputy ministers to say very clearly it’s not okay, [and] it’s having a very negative impact on the institution.”
And publicly? “I’m telling you right now.”