Governmental Cuts to the Universities during the Depression

On Campus News, 26 April 1996

"...no one who knows the western provinces can deny that the universities have been at the very centre of their life and thinking." This was a statement made to defend as much as praise, for it was made during the Depression: and in a province facing extraordinary financial difficulties, the University was not exempt.

In a letter to University of Alberta President R.C. Wallace, Walter Murray outlined "how the battle [was] proceeding." It was more like a seige: within three years the provincial grant to the University had been reduced by 40%. Major cuts were considered, but Murray "found that, on making inquiries, any suggestions to close the Law School or the School of Pharmacy would meet with the strongest opposition." Salaries were another matter: "We have passed another salary cut of 10 per cent additional for high salaries....This will bring our total cut from 2 to 30 per cent." Further, Murray had "received authority from the Board to offer those who will not be required, leave of absence for twelve months with three months pay."

What now seems somewhat remarkable in this is the reaction of the faculty so affected. "Without exception," Murray noted, faculty were "ready to accept as an alternative [to cutting 'minor schools'] a further cut if necessary. They all realize the impossibility of any one securing employment at the present time. They prefer to stand together if necessary. There are dangers in such a policy but the spirit is admirable and I would be very sorry to do anything that would weaken it."

Murray had less admiration for the Western Premiers, who he felt "were playing politics to some extent....They, of course, were not animated by any feeling of hostility to the Universities but they thought it would be good political tactics to let the public know how anxious they were to effect economies--economies in institutions that are sometimes regarded as the preserves of the privileged."

Cheryl Avery