Mount Allison University’s women’s and gender studies program, already underfunded and over-enrolled, is effectively facing extinction due to secretive budget cuts.
On Monday night, acting director of women’s and gender studies Lisa Dawn Hamilton emailed students to say the budget for next year’s program had been reduced to zero. Hamilton didn’t get back to The Coast before publication, but she reiterated to CTV that the program’s budget is cut.
“I am writing tonight with disappointing news. The Dean of Arts informed me today that due to decisions made in the budget process the university has cut the budget for the WGST program next year. This means that, currently, there are no plans to offer any WGST courses in the coming academic year. We are currently exploring options for how to accommodate students who will still need WGST credits toward their minor.”
—Text of email from Lisa Dawn Hamilton
A prepared statement from university vice-president of advancement Gloria Jollymore says that Mount Allison has not “announced any intention to cut the program.” Which is a carefully-worded truth.
According to Katharyn Stevenson, president of Mount Allison’s women’s and gender studies society, the university isn’t eliminating the program—just cutting off funding to the point it can’t function. No budget means no teaching position, and no course.
Stevenson says she and others heard tells of a meeting to discuss the program’s future direction, but the decision by administrators on Monday is “worse than anything we expected.”
“I was angry. I still am,” Stevenson says. “I have a lot of friends that now it’s up in the air whether they’ll be able to complete their minor.”
The university hasn’t said what could happen to those WGST minor students and the credits they’ve already paid for and completed. Also in a “quite precarious” position is the program’s sole instructor, Tasia Alexopoulos. Essentially a part-time employee with no benefits, Alexopoulos is paid via four-month-long stipends for each of WGST’s four core classes. She has to reapply for those $6,000 stipends every year.
“There is no guarantee I would have had a job next year, but it does make it so there’s no position to apply for,” Alexopoulos says. “It’s very frustrating. Today has been a lot of extra emotional labour on us.”
At $6,000 each, eliminating the staffing stipends for the WGST program’s four core classes would save Mount Allison a cool $24,000 per year (plus any potential ancillary fees).
Mount Allison is meanwhile projecting $44.6 million in revenue this year according to the school’s recently-released budget, and a $400,000 deficit that exists as “a violation of the University’s budget policy.” The school’s down one million dollars in tuition and fees this year from its 2,200 students.
The women’s and gender studies program at Mount Allison was founded in 1999 as an interdisciplinary minor meant to analyze social, cultural, economic and political issues from a gender-centred perspective. It was created to honour the memory of Grace Annie Lockhart, who received her Bachelor of Science degree from Mount Allison in 1875—the first woman to do so in the British empire.
There are currently 44 students taking the minor, according to Mount Allison. An online petition protesting the alleged cuts has over 4,300 signatures at press time.
An email sent on Tuesday evening to Mount Allison students from arts dean Hans vanderLeest says the university “faces budget challenges and is exploring ways to most effectively deliver its academic programs.”
But if it is about money, the WGST program is earning its fair share. According to Alexopoulos, the minor program still has a waitlist of students even after raising enrollment caps three times last year.
“When a program is growing, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to cut it back when we’re worried about enrollment,” she says. “Students in seats apparently equals dollar signs, so if you have a lot of students in seats, that seems to be good.”
“It really doesn’t seem that money’s an issue,” says Stevenson, not hesitating to point out that university president Robert Campbell’s $329,999 salary is a couple thousand bucks more than the Prime Minister’s. “It just seems the distribution of wealth in this university isn’t as just and fair as they try and frame it to be.”
Mount Allison didn’t respond to a request to verify waitlist numbers. Dean Hans vanderLeest and communications director Robert Hiscock also didn’t respond to The Coast’s questions on the WGST program and other budget specifics except with the afore-quoted boilerplate.
“Decisions on the status of any University program are not taken lightly. They require significant consultation and review,” reads the school’s press release. “Mount Allison has not initiated any type of formal review of this program or any other.”
As of right now, nothing appears set in stone. The student society is organizing petitions and contacting other groups and Mount Allison alumni to combat the proposed changes. There’s a planned meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss plans for moving forward.
“It’s really a shame women’s and gender studies is branded as not worth anything,” says Stevenson. “I think a lot of people here at Mount Allison are willing to voice how much it means to them.”
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