Cape Breton University could cut up to 20 faculty  Banner Image

Cape Breton University could cut up to 20 faculty

Article and Photo from The Chronicle Herald
January 18, 2016 - 8:47pm

Photo above: Cape Breton University President David Wheeler says the staffing cuts are necessary because the number of high school graduates in Cape Breton is steadily declining, and international students from Saudi Arabia are no longer entering degree courses.

Faculty at Cape Breton University could be facing up to 20 layoffs if efforts to trim $5 million in annual costs are unsuccessful, say university officials.

President David Wheeler said Monday he has invoked a clause in the faculty union’s collective agreement that triggers a process involving a committee of management and staff examining ways to cut staff costs.

It is necessary, Wheeler said, because the number of high school graduates in Cape Breton is steadily declining, and international students from Saudi Arabia are no longer entering degree courses at CBU due to a change in their own government’s scholarships.

The university has also been hit with declining provincial government funding, said Wheeler.

Under what is unofficially called the faculty layoff clause, a committee will look at voluntary staff cost reductions before any decision is made on layoffs, he said.

“We are continuing to say that we believe that with goodwill, it is possible to imagine making these savings in our staff costs through voluntary mechanisms,” said Wheeler

“We’re not calling it a financial emergency or exigency. Those are not words we would use. We do know that we have a significant gap between costs and revenues that is of the order of $5 million a year, which results mostly from factors directly outside of our control.”

The faculty association has said that amount of money could lead to 20 layoffs, representing about 15 per cent of the union’s 140 members, but Wheeler said it’s premature to speculate on the number of positions that may be affected.

“It is my fervent hope that we do protect jobs, but at this stage, there’s no guarantees, because it depends on both sides being creative and innovative and coming up with solutions that will allow the voluntary mechanisms to achieve the result we want, which is cost savings in our salary bill.”

Scott Stewart, a philosophy professor and president of the CBU faculty association, said no one disputes the difficulties facing the university, but he added that the layoff clause only kicks in if there’s a financial need.

The committee’s first job will be to determine whether the finances require layoffs, said Stewart, and to do that, the union has hired accountants to look at the university’s books, especially given several recent years of surpluses.

“Could there be financial exigency? I think that’s possible,” he said.

“Is it the amount they’re talking about? Possibly. We just don’t know. I don’t want to cast aspersions on anybody here. It’s just our duty to look at that, and what they say may be true.”

The union will look at creative ways to cut staff costs, which could include early retirements, job sharing, or any number of possibilities, said Stewart, but it’s not clear whether they will add up to enough savings.

The process could take two to three months to complete, before the actual number of layoffs is determined, he said.

The union has launched a grievance with the provincial Labour Board over the university’s earlier attempts at offering voluntary early retirement packages.

Stewart said the faculty association objected because management did not consult the union first, and while seven members applied, only three were accepted by management.

That case is expected to be heard next month, he said, but it likely won’t have an effect on the committee work triggered by the layoff clause.

Early retirements are “something that we would like to sit down and negotiate with them, but again, I don’t see retirement incentive packages providing the amount of money they’re looking for.”

Meanwhile, the faculty association is also hoping the province will recognize the university’s economic impact on Cape Breton and provide some extra resources.

“We are hopeful, or at least trying to be hopeful, that we can avert layoffs or mitigate the number of them through other means and some of that may be political.”