Audience questions on town hall agenda

People attending the Nov. 20 town hall meeting about university finances should not expect any big announcements but rather another in the series of updates on the operating budget adjustment project.

Both Brett Fairbairn, provost and vice-president academic, and Acting Vice-President Finance and Resources Greg Fowler will be on hand at the noon meeting in Convocation Hall but according to Fairbairn, the agenda will be largely set by the audience.

“There will be comments from Greg and me to set the context,” he said, “but we’re hoping to actually have most of the time to address concerns, issues and questions that people in the audience will raise and ask us to respond to.”

Several such meetings have been held since the U of S announced it needs to cut $44.5 million per year from its annual operating budget by 2016. Fairbairn stressed that the adjustment goal will be reached through a number of initiatives over four years. In addition to the budget adjustment projects already underway—workforce planning, consideration of college and unit contingency funds, and a revamping of procurement processes— the steering committee also continues to evaluate ideas for reducing expenses or increasing revenue submitted by university community members, he said.

“Part of what that means is that as we’re being deliberate about choosing what to do, what to stop doing and what to do less of, we will also be looking to the university to keep doing new things, to take advantage of opportunities, to invest in new activities. I know that is a less simple message than simply cutting things,” he continued, “and it’s part of the reason we want to have regular communication, including town halls, to listen and hear from people.”

The provost places a great deal of value on face-to-face meetings like town halls. They are opportunities for transparency and accountability, he said, and also allow for the kind of two-way dialogue that is not always possible or practical with emails or memos.

That dialogue, he said, should even include frank discussion of the rumours circulating through the community. “As a historian, rumours fascinate me because they’re clues to people’s hopes and fears, to how they think. Occasionally, rumours may even be accurate. One of the things I would like to see is that we actually bring rumours out in the open where we can deal with them and respond to them. It’s one thing that they circulate … but I think it is actually really good to say something about what’s accurate, what’s not and what has nothing to do with what’s going on.”

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