It is difficult to tell what constructive purpose is served by your article, “Save Us, U of W pleads to province” (Sunday 23 November 2003). As an attempt to inform your readers about the situation presently prevailing at The University of Winnipeg it is simply a joke; as a contribution to public discourse on the state of higher education in Manitoba it has even less to offer. First, as your reporter knows but chose not to indicate, the report cited is in no way extraordinary: the document to which he alludes is generated by the University and shared with government routinely every Fall as part of the budget estimates process, a process in which all our sister institutions participate, and in which they also identify their needs and future obstacles. To assess risk and anticipate difficulty is at the heart of what we are invited by government to do in the budget estimates, so it is perhaps not surprising that on the basis of this document your reporter finds himself yet again sounding his characteristic note of panic over the “very dire” future prospects of The University of Winnipeg. What is surprising, though, is to find a routine submission to government characterized in your paper as a plea to “save us.”
The University of Winnipeg has made no such plea, nor is the salvation of The University of Winnipeg an issue. The document cited in your article is merely one part of an ongoing and helpful exchange which this University, like its sisters, conducts annually with the Council on Post-Secondary Education, and by means of which we are confident the future of our institution and of the provincial system as a whole will be assured. Many of the problems singled out in your article are anything but unique to The University of Winnipeg, and to present them as such-for whatever inexplicable reason-does a disservice not only to that one institution but to all of Manitoba’s public universities. Deteriorating and crowded buildings, massive accumulated deferred maintenance, and staffing shortages: these threaten the future of university education across the province, not merely on Portage Avenue.
The rather mischievous decontextualization of The University of Winnipeg perpetrated in your article is at its most reprehensible in relation to the pension plan solvency issue. Here it must be pointed out that The University of Winnipeg has been working in very close cooperation with its sister institutions, all of whom face difficulties that are similar if varying in degree, and all of whom are concerned to identify the best possible solution. To say that the “U of W wants $11.7 million . . . from the provincial government just to bail out the school’s pension fund” is an egregious misrepresentation and simplification of our approach to this complex issue. In its recent hearings, the Pension Commission has heard from many parties, from both within and without the university community, on difficulties soon to be precipitated by the Solvency Test requirement. The University of Winnipeg has been involved in this discussion for many months and at the highest level.
“The University of Winnipeg says it needs a huge infusion of cash”: this is simply a travesty of what the province has in fact been hearing from us over the last year, a year in which the financial health of the University has been restored by scrupulous and far-sighted management, extraordinary community dedication, and a powerful will to leave the recent past behind us. That it will be left behind is certain, though with no thanks to articles such as appeared today.
Acting President, The University of Winnipeg
November 23, 2003