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Prez predicts $25-million deficit

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University prepares to launch task forces in January to decide where and when cuts will come

By Wojtek Dabrowski

The university will be saddled with a $25-million deficit by 2005 if no action is taken to battle mounting expenses and increase falling revenues, Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse said Monday.

At a meeting of the board of governors — Ryerson’s chief decision-making body — administrators led by Lajeunesse outlined a bleak future for the school if no cuts are made.

As grim-faced governors listened, Lajeunesse and Errol Aspevig, v.p. academic, also laid out a timeline for proposed budget cuts, which will try to stave off serious money woes.

The university has been struggling with its finances because of the slowdown in the global economy and what Lajeunesse has described as underfunding from the provincial government.

The projected deficit could hit $30 million if only two-thirds of the promised funding is given to Ryerson — a worst-case scenario presented by Lajeunesse.

While Lajeunesse said things are bad, he added that “we’re not at a point where there is nothing we can do.”

Because expenses are rising faster than the amount of money the school brings in, “nibbling at the margins” won’t do as a strategy to save money, Aspevig said. Instead, a more aggressive plan is being implemented.

The university will begin its consultation process to get ideas on what to cut from the school community within the next week. Next month, first decisions will be made on where fat can be trimmed. January 2002 will see the creation of campus-wide task forces which will further examine cost cutting operations. They will report back to the Ryerson executive in the spring.

Nothing is off the table as the university looks to tighten its belt, Aspevig said. Phasing out of entire programs wasn’t ruled out as a possibility in saving costs.

Aspevig also stressed that cuts will have to be prompt. He said one-time-only cuts to various departments and services could be used immediately to tide the school over until longer-term cutting can be decided on.

“We all know the consequences of dilly-dallying on this,” Aspevig said.

The plans raised out-cry from the union representing about 560 clerical workers and administrative staff at the school.

“I still maintain that they are going about it the wrong way,” Stephanie Blake, president of the Ryerson local of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

Blake said the university should operate under a deficit and bear out the slump instead of moving to cut costs.

She criticized the cost-cutting task forces that the university wants to create as well. “Why would you ever sit on a task force that may throw your brothers and sisters out of work? Forget it.

“Everything is on the premise that you need to cut and I think that’s the wrong premise.”

She also said she thinks the university is already pretty clear on what will be cut and that the consultative process is only “smoke and mirrors” designed to make the process appear open.

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