April 2,1998

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Deficit of $8 million forecast for 1998-99

Spending estimates released by the Quebec government last week indicate that Concordia's share of cuts to education next year will be about $5.85 million, about $200,000 more than anticipated. Quebec is cutting a total $56.585 million from the operating grants of all Quebec universities for 1998-99.

Larry English, Concordia's Chief Financial Officer, said the University's deficit will include this $5.85 million, plus another $2 to 2.5 million for salary increases, depending on the results of contract talks still in progress, for a total deficit -- for now -- of about $8 million.

Rector Frederick Lowy told TheGazette last Thursday that this created a new challenge for the University. "We are going to try to meet it without too much damage to our programs," he said, "but it's not going to be easy."

Following the government's figures is a discouraging task for university officials as they try to interpret complex, shifting messages from Quebec City. Projected figures rarely stay in one place, and final figures are often absurdly late. English said that he still hasn't received the government's final budget figures for the 1997-98 academic year, which ends in two months.

The spending estimates are the result of voting by the Treasury Board, which holds the government's purse-strings. They are released before the budget is presented and passed, which happened this week.

Quebec plans to balance its budget in the 1999-2000 fiscal year, after which it must tackle a whopping accumulated debt. Cost-cutting over the past four years has hit the education and health sectors particularly hard. Concordia will soon have suffered a 26-per-cent cut to its operating budget in a five-year period.

The University has been ahead of many other universities in tackling the cuts, successfully offering generous early retirement packages and, after much consultation, blending some academic programs.

There is no fat left to cut, the Rector has warned the University community. Everyone knows the options, and none of them are pretty: borrowing, across-the-board cuts, opening the doors of limited-access programs, more departmental mergers, layoffs or simply declaring a deficit, a bad habit Concordia broke about five years ago.

However, the crisis has produced unusual cooperation and resolve among Concordians at all levels. Administrators and others report that labour negotiations, academic and space planning and other processes are moving along well. - BB

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