Cash slash looms at Ryerson

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By Wojtek Dabrowski

Administrators looking at where the cuts will come down; unions fear workers will get the axe.

The economic slump that’s ravaging the world’s economy is forcing Ryerson to focus “all of our energy” on cost-cutting to ensure the university’s prosperity, president Claude Lajeunesse said Tuesday.

Lajeunesse said the economic downturn, which was exacerbated by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and shattered stock markets around the world, has created a “very serious” situation at Ryerson.

The university’s top administrators are looking at how they can trim the fat at Ryerson. That work is still in its preliminary stages, said Linda Grayson, v.p. administration.

“What we’re doing right now is identifying a whole list of areas that need to be explored,” Grayson said.

In a speech to Ryerson’s academic council Oct. 2, Lajeunesse said the process, coupled with broad consultations with the school community, will look at “all potential cost-saving options.”

The university is trying to save between $4 and $6 million, he said.

While he gave few specifics, Lajeunesse talked openly in his speech about the possibility of service cuts and “restructuring.”

“We must begin this dialogue recognizing that we will not be able to accommodate every interest and that some areas of activity will be eliminated,” she said.

Lajeunesse said lack of government funding also plays a role in the crisis. Provincial education budgets could shrink further as Ontario tries to weather the economic slump, he said.

As it tries to cope with its economic woes, the university could do anything from cutting staff to eliminating entire programs.

“My position is…no layoffs,” said Stephanie Blake, president of local 596 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. “You can’t have these knee-jerk reactions.”

OPSEU represents about 560 clerical workers and administrative staff at Ryerson.

Blake said the university should operate in short-term debt instead – something that Lajeunesse and the board of governors say is out of the question. She said she will also voice her position at the hearings into cost-cutting options.

But she said the “restructuring” language Lajeunesse used in his speech makes her think that layoffs may be looming.

This is Ryerson’s second run at chopping costs. Last spring, when the school learned Ontario wouldn’t provide additional funding beyond the $2.8 million it had already committed, an across-the-board budget cut rippled through Ryerson. No program or service was left untouched, Lajeunesse said.

He stressed the university can’t tolerate another broad cut. That’s why specific areas are being targetted this time around.

Ken Marciniec, RyeSAC’s v.p. finance and development, said that if the province trims funding for education, the university will have to scale down enrollment.

Marciniec said he doesn’t see how Ryerson can cut staff. The school needs the workers to accommodate the rush of students coming when two years of high school students come to the university in 2003.

“I don’t think that cutting (staff) is an option,” he said.

He suggested Ryerson’s public-relations machine – the department of university advancement – could be trimmed, rather than eliminating essential services at the school.

Grayson said administrative layoffs were unlikely to be a big part of the school’s cost-cutting strategy.

“We have a very lean administrative structure,” she said. “If that happens, it would be as a corollary to a whole bunch of other things.”

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