University staff, administration, students, members of the media and community, and even a cohort of picketing CUPE members were all in attendance for University of Windsor President Alan Wildeman’s address titled “The Future is Never What it Used to be”.
Speaking to the audience of roughly 400 in the newest facility on campus – the Centre for Engineering Innovation – Wildeman spoke about the University’s past, its core values, and where it was going.
“It will be the strength of our convictions and values that will enable the University to endure,” stated Wildeman, “believing in education, helping our students, discovery and creativity, and enriching the communities we care about.”
The 2008 financial crisis brought the world close to a state of economic collapse, and Wildeman explained that universities must answer such situations as a “summons to change”.
“The message that our expenses are rising faster than our revenues and that government funding is not increasing, the message that our pension costs are escalating, the message that we will have to realign our budgets again for the fifth consecutive year.” stated Wildeman, “These are messages that are applicable at most institutions across our country. They are messages that lead some to the conclusion that universities are in fact unsustainable in their present form.”
Wildeman explained that while enrollment at the University has lagged, he recognizes that “we exist within a region where the population has not grown as it has in other areas”.
“I showed the [enrollment] trends, and that’s a trend that we can’t rest on our laurels,” explained Wildeman to reporters following the address. “What happened over the last two decades on enrollment has not positioned us where we want to be in the province. There’s a lot of great things going on here, and we’re just focusing on recruitment and finding new ways of getting our story out … that’s what my message was about.”
Wildeman would like more people to be aware of the university’s strategic research plan as he views it as a “very important piece that captures the creativity [and] the great work … on our campus that’s making a difference around the world … we need to get out there more.”
“We have to initiate a dialogue on campus [in order to be able to reanimate the campus]. I think there’s a way of re-imagining this university in a way that will let us be recognized as absolutely unique.” said Wildeman.
Not all were content with Wildeman’s message, and James Kehoe of CUPE 1001 explained that he and his fellow CUPE members decided to protest the address because “the university has decided to contract out some of the buildings that we work in without any prior discussion with us … we get kicked out of these buildings because they do not want to hire front-line staff.”
Kehoe’s upset at what he sees as the university hiring “additional administration and mid-level management, while they’re telling students that they need to pay the maximum increase … we’re seeing no increases and our workload is expanding, but we’re seeing no new staff hired into our union.”
“When our members retire, they’re not replaced,” emphatically stated Kehoe, adding, “We don’t have the staff to clean the buildings, and their solution is to contract out, rather than replace good quality jobs with our union members.”
The atmosphere at Local 1001 according to Kehoe has been “angry [and] demoralized” and he stated “we are going to be in bargaining this year, and it seems the university wants to start early.”
Jonathon Liedtke is the Features & Opinion Editor for the University of Windsor Lance Campus/Community Newspaper and a reporter for ourWindsor.ca. As a founding member and current Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee, he is committed to representing, connecting, engaging with and advocating for local youth. He is also a member of Windsor’s “Punk with Horns” band The Nefidovs, and as such, is committed to enhancing and sustaining the arts community.