"I talked to students, faculty and staff every day as I walked around the Bowl. I talked to business leaders, government, alumni and donors. My leadership team and I needed to talk to as many individuals and groups as possible and hear what they had to say before any decisions could be made," Barnhart said.
Barnhart said that changes to strengthen the university's position among top research-intensive universities in Canada are still needed, but that TransformUS, a program prioritization process, will be replaced by a smaller set of specific priorities for action. "It's important to note that not all the decisions have been made, but this is the direction we are going."
In 2012, it was identified the university faced a projected deficit of $44.5 million by 2016 if the institution did not make changes to its expenditures and revenues. Through the actions taken over the past two years, the university has reduced the projected operating budget deficit by generating about $32 million through permanent operating savings and increased revenue.
Permanent operating budget expenditures were reduced by about $25 million per year through almost equal reductions in the staff complement, the faculty complement and central non-salary operating expenses. As well, about $7 million per year was achieved through increased revenue. The university is still projecting deficits of $3 million for 2014-15 and $7 million in 2015-16, amounts the university considers manageable year over year.
"While tough choices are necessary, we have to remember that this is about people, not just money," said Interim Provost and Vice-President Academic Ernie Barber. "There was a lot of good work done in the past few years that we shouldn't disregard, however we have to be sure we continue to listen in a meaningful way as we move forward."
Continuing to acknowledge the demands on public higher education to demonstrate value and reduce costs, Barnhart said that the university must be open to change, but cautioned against quick fixes. He noted that TransformUS was a big project that unfolded too quickly.
"I want us to pave the path that's right for us — changes that we pursue at the University of Saskatchewan will be driven by our mission, not money," he said.
Barber then outlined priorities and actions for the next year including: accelerating the delivery on the university's commitment to Aboriginal education; ongoing restructuring of the College of Medicine; continuing with the transformation of the university's library collections, facilities, capital and services; and aligning the university's administrative services to support the institution's academic mission.
"While the university has averted a financial crisis, longer-term financial risks continue to exist, said Barber. "We will continue to take measures as necessary to ensure financial sustainability and to put our resources -- human, financial and capital -- behind our priorities."
Barnhart's and Barber's formal remarks were followed by a question-and-answer session.
For a list of specific priorities this year, read the backgrounder.
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University of Saskatchewan