UNBC lays off nine in face of budget challenge

·3 min read

The University of Northern British Columbia will be shutting down its university advancement office, shedding nine jobs in the process, in an effort to pass a balanced budget for 2021-22.

The layoffs come into effect on April 1.

UNBC president Geoff Payne said the decision was strictly related to the budget and commended the performances of those affected.

"Their commitment to UNBC and their contributions have been outstanding," Payne said. "This had nothing to do with their performances."

The layoffs will save UNBC about $800,000. Exactly how much UNBC is in the red was not immediately available but Payne indicated it’s in the range of $2-4 million.

The layoffs cover four exempt positions - including vice president Tim Tribe - and five unionized. Two remaining positions will be transferred to the research and innovation office.

The university advancement office is responsible for fundraising, marketing, alumni relations, athletics, ceremonies and protocol.

All of those tasks will remain in some capacity but have been farmed out to other senior executives. For example, communications and marketing will report to the president going forward.

Payne said the step was taken as part of a four-year plan launched last year to put UNBC on a more stable course. The university is required must pass a balanced budget each fiscal year.

"UNBC continues to be in a structural deficit position and we need to get a handle on that," Payne said. "The levers that we would use in the past, such as deferred transfers or one-time funding, are not sustainable so we needed to make some tough choices."

He said the university's endowment fund remains healthy but cannot be used to balance the cost of its operations.

Despite the shortfall, UNBC's Board of Governors decided last Friday to refrain from increasing tuition fees by two per cent, the maximum allowed under provincial legislation.

The hike would have added about $400,000 in revenue had it gone ahead, depending on the student count.

Enrollment at UNBC is holding steady in terms of head count, at 4,445 and up by 39 from last year, but down in terms of full-time equivalents, which stood at 3,654, down 82.5.

"Really, it means we have more students taking less courses and I'm not surprised by that given that we're in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic," Payne said. "Taking five courses online is definitely a strain on students so they're taking fewer courses."

Asked for an update on the arbitration process that ended the job action by UNBC's faculty association in December 2019, Payne said it still remains in play.

"We're still working on that process," he said.

Payne said he remains a believer in UNBC.

"This is an outstanding school with outstanding people and if we can get a handle on our budget deficit, which we are doing...we will make sure that UNBC moves forward and is the institution that we all know it is."

Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince George Citizen