This last year saw the U of A lay offs staff, cut phone lines in certain departments, and implement a new student fee in an attempt to deal with an expected $59 million gap. The operating budget for 2010/11 was eventually approved with a $14.8 million deficit.
Faced with such a gap in the budget, the university originally aimed to spread the pain three ways — with $20 million coming from students, $20 million from eliminating inefficiencies, and $20 million from staff in the form of furlough days and layoffs.
On the student side, news of a proposed $550 per semester mandatory non-instructional fee referred to as the Common Student Space, Sustainability, and Security (CoSSS) fee was enough to push the Students' Union to organize a march on the legislature. On March 18, nearly 400 students protested the additional fee, which was eventually reduced to $290 per semester.
In addition to the CoSSS fee, four faculties at the U of A saw the approval of market modifiers. While tuition growth is normally tied to the Consumer Price Index, which measures the cost of living increases, the university argued that for some faculties, tuition had been too low when it was tied to CPI. The U of A argued that this was the case for a number of faculties, though ultimately the government only agreed in the case of Engineering, Pharmacy, Business, and Graduate Studies.
However, the new fee and the market modifiers couldn't solve all the budget difficulties. In September, 48 staff members were laid off, while 182 left after taking the Voluntary Retirement Incentive Program. Coupled with an increase in enrolment and a decrease in course selection, many class sizes have grown.
Last year started off with the departure of Students' Union President Kory Mathewson, who resigned on January 11 for what he termed "personal reasons." The Gateway obtained documents in September showing that Mathewson's Vice Presidents had given Mathewson an ultimatum: he could either resign or the executive committee would recommend his removal to council. The documents also showed that the other executives presented Mathewson with the choice due to concerns they had with his performance.
However, at the time of Mathewson's resignation, the other executives denied giving Mathewson an ultimatum, with Vice President (Academic) Leah Trueblood repeating "we did not" three times after being asked if the executives had asked for his resignation. The executives also refused to elaborate on the matter when asked at Students' Council in January.
After The Gateway obtained documents indicating that Mathewson was pushed to resign, several of the executives commented.
"I've kind of equated it in my head to a personnel matter, which wouldn't normally be in the public domain for anything, really," Vice President (Operations and Finance) Zach Fentiman eventually explained.
However, some felt that it should've been public knowledge. At least one former councillor raised concerns with how student money had been spent in the affair, with Mathewson's direct legal expenses totaling $2,532 and the SU spending up to $7,896 in that period on Mathewson-related legal fees.
"I think one dollar is too much. I don't think any money really should be spent," former councillor Adam Zepp said. "I definitely see how people could be angry that their SU money, and money to go to school, is being spent on essentially hiding information from them. I'd be the first to say that this is complete bullshit. And I think everyone should know exactly what happened."
Hazing activities at the University of Alberta chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity came to light in late October, which was described in video footage and by eyewitness testimony.
During the DKE initiation last January, pledges were made to eat their own vomit, go without sleep, and spend time enclosed in a plywood box.
"[Pledges are] not told what happens. There's very little care actually done for them. They're stolen from, they're taken advantage of, they're yelled at [...], they're not told when it will end," a source present at the initiation told The Gateway. "They're definitely hurt mentally and physically at the end of it."
A university investigation was soon launched and by November, the U of A DKE chapter had its student group status temporarily suspended. DKE International, after conducting its own investigation, provisionally suspended the U of A chapter for three years. The university's own investigation is still ongoing.
Foreign workers for the U of A's cleaning contractor Bee-Clean alleged in October 2010 that they were forced to perform unpaid labour, were refused overtime pay, and were threatened with deportation if they unionized. Workers and supporters created the 'Justice for Janitors' campaign and began proceedings to sue Bee-Clean. An airing of complaints later in October saw Bee-Clean categorically deny the allegations and announce that they were counter-suing the union for defamation. The U of A refused to get involved, which provoked displeasure from many staff and students.
In mid-November, Bee-Clean said they were willing to negotiate with Justice for Janitors, who then cancelled a press conference as a show of good faith, and the call for what had become a controversial presentation at Students' Council was dropped.