In January 2013, the SFUO, GSAÉD and CUPE 2626 participated in the 2013-14 Budgetary Consultations of the University of Ottawa. In the final report of the Advisory Committee submitted to the Board of Governors, none of the ideas suggested by these groups were selected. In addition, the report contained half-truths and incomplete statements on their respective positions regarding the financial health of the University. All which was retained were the ideas presented by the Administration and Faculties of the University. The Board also considered that the process was legitimate since several groups participated.
However, student and labour groups do not share this opinion. We felt used to legitimize the consultative process. In addition, the premises on which the consultation were built were false. While the finances of the University are healthy, accumulating more than $500 million in surpluses between 2002 and 2012, the University claimed projected financial difficulties and wanted possible solutions to a problem that did not exist. Further, the documents provided to the participating groups were incomplete and missing key financial data.
For a genuine consultation to take place, the University of Ottawa must ensure greater transparency in its financial documents, truly welcome all groups of the university community with openness and honesty, and ensure the participation of these groups in the drafting of the report and recommendations from the consultative process
The truth is the University hides part of its revenues. Expenditures budgetary lines include jumble of administrative expenses, payment of wages, benefits payments, grievances and arbitrations, etc. It is thus difficult to distinguish between legitimate and wasteful expenses.
By not making all the information relating to the budget public, the University makes it impossible for participants to see the financial picture correctly and to find solutions accordingly. Ultimately, the University covers its mismanagement and refuses to be accountable to the community.
It is difficult for participants to the budgetary consultation to fully participate if disclosed documents contain incomplete data or if they lack transparency.
It is clear that the budgetary consultations are a poor show put up in order to coax the university community and to appease demands. We already know how this will end: recommendations of associations will be ignored in favor of the pre-determined position of the administration.
We do not see the interest to participate in such a failed process.
Administrators from the University of Ottawa must be open to suggestions from student and labour groups on campus, without trying to throw dust in the eyes of students and workers.
To be a genuine consultation, it is important that all stakeholders have confidence in the process. Each partner must have the assurance that their views are not only heard, but also fairly considered by the Advisory Committee in the drafting the report. The process must provide equitable space to all stakeholders of the community, so that no one group can monopolize the process.
In this sense, budget consultations at the University of Ottawa must reserve enough space for its students and its workers at least equal to the space reserved to faculties and administrative departments of the University.
To ensure that the Advisory Committee consider fairly all views expressed, a significant place must be made the Committee for students and workers representatives, which will also be directly involved in the drafting of the report of the Committee.
Ultimately, a form of participatory budgeting consultation, already attempted by important political bodies could be successful if it is implemented by the University.
Beyond the consultative process, the University of Ottawa administration must be more transparent of its financial management and more accountable to the community it serves.
For example, student governors must be allowed to be members of the Finance and Treasurery Committee of the Board of Governors and to participate in its work.
uOttawa must also demonstrate greater transparency in its financial statements by making public ALL sources of revenues, that is to say, each of the sources of income and the amount attached to this source, by making public all its investments (investments, interests, etc..), making public ALL the information on its various financial funds , and further clarifying its operating expenses.
Most importantly, the Board of Governors should include greater representation for students and workers.
All members of the community are committed to the development of the University of Ottawa. Ensuring that the students and workers fully participate in a genuine democratic consultation in which they can be heard and make decisions, the University and the entire community it serves will gain legitimacy, credibility, confidence and a greater sense of belonging.