Five Toronto labour organizations which collectively represent 21,208 staff and faculty at U of T penned a joint letter to President Meric Gertler on May 8 requesting to meet for a discussion on the Ford government’s recent changes to postsecondary funding.  

CUPE 1230, CUPE 3261, CUPE 3902, the United Steelworkers Local 1998, and the University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA) wrote to Gertler and the university’s three Vice-Presidents to express their dismay at what they call “the provincial government’s threats to learning and employment at the University of Toronto.”

The labour groups had numerous concerns, including how the provincial government’s decision to cut domestic tuition by 10 per cent comes “after years of underfunding universities.” They also criticized the government’s move to slash $670 million from student assistance programs.

The groups were also “deeply concerned” about the decision to render some ancillary fees as optional — allowing students to opt-out of “non-essential” student services and to increase the proportion of “performance-based” funding for Ontario universities from 1.4 per cent in 2018–19 to 60 per cent by 2024–25.

University will see revenues drop, possible changes to hiring plans

After accounting for Ford’s policies, U of T’s Planning & Budget Committee projected an $88 million revenue reduction for 2019–2020 and a loss of $65 million in 2018–2019.

According to the budget report, the cuts will mean “some combination of changes to faculty and staff hiring plans, deferral of capital projects, service reductions, and operating cost efficiencies.”

P.C. Choo is both the Vice-President of the United Steelworkers Local 1998 and an administrative governor on Governing Council. He told The Varsity that in his capacity as a governor, he does not believe that the university “will be forced to cut salaries.” However, Choo continued, “whether the University will be forced to cut jobs remains very much an open question.”

UTFA President Cynthia Messenger is equally unsure of what’s to come. Messenger told The Varsity in an email that if Gertler would be willing to meet with UTFA and the other unions, she would hope to “discuss ways in which together we could protest the Ford government’s attacks on universities.”

Despite the heightened rhetoric the labour groups employed at times toward the Progressive Conservative government, Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, defended the government’s plans.

Tanya Blazina, Fullerton’s media relation representative, told The Varsity that the changes the government is putting forward are “modern, forward thinking, and will lead to good jobs.”

Tying funding to “student and economic outcomes” reflects the government’s priority of making Ontario “Open for Business”, Blazina wrote, while restoring sustainability to the province’s postsecondary sector.

Blazina is referring to the government’s plan to base provincial funding for universities on how well the schools are performing on a number of metrics, as opposed to enrolment numbers. This decision was also criticized by the unions in their letter.

In an email to The Varsity, university spokesperson Elizabeth Church writes that the university is responding directly to the writers of the letter.

“We know how hard our students and their families work to get a university education,” writes Church. “We remain firm in our long-standing access guarantee – financial circumstances will not stand in the way of a qualified student entering or completing a degree.”