Dalhousie students invited to give budget input

New process gives more opportunity to speak out on spending cuts, fee increases

Students walk across Dalhousie campus
Dalhousie University is seeking feedback from students before it develops a plan to address a $17.5 million shortfall in its budget. Photo credit: Chris Putnam

The Dalhousie University administration is encouraging students to voice their opinions as it prepares to make tough decisions on its 2013-14 budget.

The university’s Budget Advisory Committee announced last week that Dalhousie is set to come up $17.5 million short in its annual budget. The committee is now looking for solutions to balance the $348.5 million budget – as required by the Dalhousie Board of Governors – before presenting it in the spring.

Some of the scenarios proposed in the paper are grim. Fee increases and spending cuts appear certain, but which programs and services will be most affected remains open for discussion.

Consultation with students is a part of the discussion process. The committee is expanding its efforts this year, starting with a live webinar with committee chair Carolyn Watters at 5 p.m. this Thursday, Jan. 24.

During the webinar, Watters will explain the budget challenges facing the committee and answer questions about the process. Meanwhile, students and other members of the community can email budget director Susan Robertson until Feb. 6 with their own suggestions on balancing the budget.

The Budget Advisory Committee is also accepting invitations to meet with any Dalhousie groups and associations who want to have their opinions heard.

Drawing on the feedback it receives, the committee will prepare a second report with specific recommendations on balancing the budget in late February. At that point, a second consultation period will begin.

“In good faith”

Budget Advisory Committee chair Carolyn Watters. Photo courtesy of Danny Abriel, Dalhousie University.

Pursuing this level of participation is new for the committee, which in past years invited feedback on the process but didn’t actively seek out student perspectives. The change is the result of a policy implemented by the university last year and expanded this year.

“This is the first time we’ve ever engaged the community as widely as we have at this point in the process,” says Watters.

The change is part of an effort to consult “in good faith,” she adds, meaning that submissions from students will be taken seriously. The cuts are coming, but students can make it known where they’ll be felt the most and where they’ll hurt the least.

The “volume of voices” making submissions won’t be what influences the committee, Watters says, but “the logic of the argument.”

A chance to be heard

Dalhousie Student Union spokesperson Lindsay Dowling says the DSU is waiting for Thursday’s webinar before adopting a position on the budget.

“We’re really interested in finding out what students think and what their ideas are, and once we know that, we’re going to start building a platform off of that to lobby the university.”

History student Allison McCormick is interested in participating in the consultation process.

“I think that’s a great idea,” she says. “The university kind of revolves around the students, so I think that students should have a huge part in deciding what happens with the money.”

Chemistry/economics student Talaal Rshaidat likes the idea of the consultation, but is skeptical of the average student’s knowledge of budgeting.

“I think it’s better for people who actually know what they’re doing and what they’re talking about to make the decisions, and not the students,” he says.

Watters thinks students shouldn’t be afraid to participate, even though the budget’s complexity can be “daunting.”

“Become familiar with what the problems are,” she says. “Talk about it with your friends, tune into the webinar – you don’t have to send in a question, but it wouldn’t hurt to listen.”