Andrew Boden: APSA Executive Director

A Little, but Not a Lot on SFU’s Budget and Involuntary Layoffs

April 11, 2024

One of my goals in these columns is to provide you with as much solid information as possible. I’d like to be able to do just that on the subject of SFU’s budget woes and the University’s messaging about involuntary layoffs. Still, we’re just not receiving enough fulsome information from the University on these subjects. Now, I don’t read into the University’s not disclosing this information that something nefarious is going on: it could be that University representatives simply don’t have the information or the information is changing too fast to release it. 

A case in point. 

As we do every quarter, we met with the senior administration on March 7, 2024. I asked multiple times for a solid figure on the number of involuntary layoffs our members could expect to see in the near term, but University representatives couldn’t tell us. They described the situation as “fluid” and that more information (and changing information) was coming in from departments on a fairly frequent basis. 

Still, I pushed for a concrete number for involuntary layoffs. “Twenty? Fifty?” I asked, “Hundreds?” Joy Johnson said that the layoffs wouldn’t be in the hundreds but, unfortunately, couldn’t provide me with a more exact figure.

On the theme of not receiving enough information from SFU, I did read out loud to the senior administration from our financial analysis of SFU’s third quarter finances (I note that we hire from time to time a financial researcher to look at SFU’s finances, especially during bargaining). Our financial researcher wrote, “As a general observation, SFU doesn’t appear to provide its Board members [on the board of governors] with adequate financial information to perform its oversight role. On the other hand, why are BoG members not demanding more financial information?” 

I also read this paragraph aloud: “Overall, the financial information available at SFU BoG meetings is sparse. The Q3 Forecast is based on financial data only up to October 31, 2023. To date, SFU has not shared the Operating Variances Report with Board members - actuals-to-date for the fiscal year. Information about tuition enrolment and revenue is inadequate to fully assess SFU’s claims of a $12 million shortfall in tuition revenue. Claims that fossil fuel divestment has cost SFU $18.5 million in investment revenue have not been explained. Lastly, claims that pension expenses are contributing to the deficit are barely mentioned in quarterly reports.”

In response, Joy Johnson emphasized that the BoG is focused on SFU’s budget situation and they, too, are requesting more information from the University. Martin Pochurko assured me that SFU’s 2023/24 actuals will confirm everything the University is messaging about its budget. Of course, we’ll need to wait for the University’s 2023/24 actuals to determine the accuracy of the University’s narrative about its finances.

Despite the “fluidity” of SFU’s difficulties, the lack of fulsome information is still frustrating for us and, most importantly, you. You work here, after all, very hard, under sometimes very difficult circumstances. The University’s messaging the community about potential involuntary layoffs, for example, is causing many of you a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty, but it isn’t letting us know how many people may lose their jobs. It’s only fair that you know as soon as possible. And be reassured, we will keep on insisting on concrete information.