Students at First Nations University will return to a dramatically downsized version of their school this fall after the troubled Regina-based institution announced it is cutting nearly one-quarter of its faculty and staff, cancelling courses and merging departments.
The drastic reductions, which include the elimination of 46 jobs, were announced Thursday as the school scrambles to meet the conditions of federal and provincial funding by slicing $3-million from its annual operating budget by the end of the month. The university is selling its only asset - a satellite campus in Saskatoon - to cover the cost of the massive restructuring and says it has lined up a buyer for the property along with an agreement to lease the building for the coming school year.
"We are doing what is needed to ensure First Nations University is everlasting," the school's interim president, Shauneen Pete, said in an interview after the announcement. Speaking from the school's main campus, which it shares with the University of Regina, she said the university's mission of delivering post-secondary education in a manner that honours native traditions and knowledge will not be lost in the cuts. "It is not just what we teach. It is the manner in which we teach it," she said.
She estimated that about 20 per cent of the school's 500 students will be affected by the cuts, which include the cancellation of courses with low enrolment and the merging of the university's nine academic departments into two. Ten faculty and 19 staff were let go on Thursday, with the remaining 17 positions cut through retirements and leaving vacancies unfilled.
Student leader Diana Adams, who fought hard for the re-instatement of provincial and federal funding earlier this year, described the reorganization as a "bittersweet" moment in the history of the university, which teetered on the brink of bankruptcy after both levels of government cut financial support because of a spending scandal.
"The school we are going back to in the fall will not be the same one we left in the spring," the fourth-year student said. "But we have a university to go back to this fall. We are going to keep learning."
The missing faces, she said, will not go unnoticed on the tightly knit campus.
Several of the professors who lost their jobs on Thursday have a long association with the school, including Randy Lundy, head of the English department and an accomplished poet, who became a passionate advocate for the school earlier this year when its continued existence was in question.
The loss of such individuals and the continuing uncertainty of federal funding will make it difficult for the school to regroup and grow, said Jim Turk, head of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. "Without adequate funding, my fear is that we will see a death by a thousand cuts," he said. "They are trying to make the best of a very difficult situation."
The restructuring is the latest in a string of actions taken by the university in response to long-brewing financial and management problems. Those issues came to a crisis early this year after a senior staff member blew the whistle on the misuse of funds and inappropriate expense claims, including a trip to Las Vegas by staff members.
The allegations led the province and the federal government to cut more than $12-million in funding to the university - the only one of its kind in Canada.
In response, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, which oversees the university, has taken steps to reform the school's board and administration, and provincial funding has been restored. Ottawa has pledged funds for the coming school year.
Neither government would allow its money to be used for severance costs, which prompted the sale of the Saskatoon campus, announced this spring.