SFU cuts English, translation programs due to rising costs

The Teaching Support Staff Union said it was shocked that SFU will be ending some of its programs. Those being cut include the Interpretation and Translation Programs, Medical and Legal programs, and the English Language and Culture program.

Simon Fraser University (SFU) is planning to cut department budgets because of rising costs.

In a release Wednesday, the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) at SFU said it was shocked that the university will be ending some of its programs.

Those being cut include the Interpretation and Translation (ITP) Programs, Medical and Legal programs, by next month, and the English Language and Culture (ELC) Program by the end of the summer.

“SFU cites budget cuts as the reason for the closure, but continues to withhold critical financial information leading some to question why these programs have been targeted,” the union said.

It says budget cuts were announced last year with reductions in library hours and staff, removal of the football team and the athletics marketing and communication teams, along with a hiring freeze.

However, the union says, that while cuts are in effect, SFU’s leadership is seeing an increase in their earnings.

“SFU’s President and VPs have received large annual wage increases of up to 6.75%,” it said.

Kayla Hilstob, Chief Steward of TSSU says this news is a “shocker.”

“SFU assured its instructors and students that the academic mission of the university would not be affected by the budget cuts. They said instructors would not be impacted. They lied,” she said.

TSSU says the ELC and ITP are two out of 23 programs that are represented by the union, and the only programs that are set to close.

Silvia Xalabarde, President of the Society of Translators and Interpreters of BC (STIBC) says there’s a shortage in the field.

“There is a shortage of interpreters and translators. A program closure would mean that basic services will become even less accessible to Chinese and Japanese speakers in BC,” she said.

She says the union and the STIBC were not consulted before the closing of the programs.

“We were looking to work with SFU to expand the program, not close it. There are currently no Punjabi interpretation and translation programs in BC and that is one area we would like to see this program grow,” she said.

Scott Yano, an instructor in the ELC program tells CityNews the university blindsided the teachers.

“There were lots of questions about whether it can be avoided and I haven’t really had any hard answers about why it’s happening in the first place,” he said. “We were shocked, [the program has] been here for almost 30 years.”

He says the program taught a variety of different things such as news media, film courses, literature, and Canadian studies.

Yano says the program has been significant for former students’ development.

“Former students have said this program has helped them with their critical thinking and ability to survive in Canadian business and the higher education system,” he said.

He says he’s not sure why the programs were selected to be cut.

“It could have been costs, it could have been enrollment being down, these are the things they’ve been saying,” he said. “But they haven’t received any hard numbers or any data that can support that.”

Dilson Rassier, Chief Budget Officer at SFU said in a letter written to the staff, that it has been a tough week for everyone at SFU, and it was a difficult decision to cut positions held by his colleagues.

“There have been approximately 85 SFU employee position eliminations. While any job loss is painful, we appreciate the efforts made across the SFU community to mitigate the impacts on people,” he said.

He said the hiring freeze at SFU has been successful in reducing costs and will continue until further notice. He says he expects more stability in the next fiscal year.

“As you are aware SFU faces unprecedented financial challenges. However, because of our operational measures, we are predicting a balanced budget for the 2024–25 fiscal year and onwards,” Rassier said.

The budget officer says the changes made to the budget model is to ensure the balance is maintained.

“These include moving to multi-year budget planning and switching from annual to quarterly forecasting to ensure we have the most accurate and timely data to aid decision-making and reporting,” he said.

Yano tells CityNews that instructors feel devalued, and the value of the program goes “beyond money.”

“We have one former student who is a city councillor in Vancouver right now,” he said. “That’s our value. It does feel like we’re being devalued if this comes down to dollars and cents.”

In the release, City of Vancouver Coun. Lenny Zhou, a former student of the program, said he and his wife were both alumni of the program and it was an important part of his life.

“It was a pivotal stepping stone in my integration into Canadian society as an international student and the first generation immigrant, and for that, I am forever grateful!” said Zhou.

The councillor wrote a message to SFU with hopes the university would reverse the decision to close the program.

“I implore you to reconsider the decision to close this vital program. Let us work together to preserve the legacy of ELC and uphold its mission of fostering cultural understanding, academic excellence, and global citizenship,”

TSSU says currently the program has 40 instructors, and they all received layoff notices on Tuesday, May 14 with termination by the end of this summer.

-With files from Srushti Gangdev.

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