Town Hall packs University Theatre

The hard reality of shrinking government grant money, combined with a struggling economy and declining numbers of post-secondary students was spelled out Thursday as the University of Lethbridge held a Town Hall meeting in its University Theatre.

University President, Dr. Bill Cade, was assisted by Vice-President (Academic) and Provost, Dr. Andy Hakin and Vice-President (Finance and Administration), Nancy Walker, as they presented the budgetary issues facing the University over the next three years.

Hakin described a "perfect storm" of factors that have come together to force the University to address what is expected to be a budgetary shortfall in the years 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. Operating grant increases from the Government of Alberta are not expected beyond the 2009-2010 budget year, meaning the U of L forecasts cutting its budget by $5 million and $6 million respectively in the ensuing years.

"Some of these factors are not within our control and yet as a community, we must deal with them," said Hakin. "We, as the community of the University of Lethbridge, must find a way forward."

The meeting was extremely well attended, filling the University Theatre and most of the overflow seating established on the floor of the stage. Following addresses by Cade, Hakin and Walker, who presented the financial picture with a PowerPoint presentation, the meeting was opened for questions and suggestions from the floor.

Among the issues discussed were the possibility of layoffs and whether every unit of the University was under review, including senior administration. Cade assured that every unit would be treated equally and be under the same scrutiny should downsizing be necessary.

Questions continued around the areas of student recruitment, the role of the U of L's Calgary and Edmonton campuses, the possibility that early retirement packages may be offered and whether the issue of student housing was a priority to better attract and retain students.

Cade concluded the meeting by assuring the University community that the institution was not facing a financial emergency, rather it was planning for the future and enlisting the ideas of its faculty and staff to best cope with the realities of a tough economy. He also indicated continued town hall-style meetings would follow as the year progressed.