Union shocked SFU ending English, interpretation and translation programs

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Universities’ and colleges’ growing deficits, layoffs concern unions across country
WATCH: Canadian universities' and colleges’ growing deficits, layoffs concern unions across country. Neetu Garcha reports. – May 18, 2024

The Teaching Support Staff Union at Simon Fraser University said it is shocked that the post-secondary school will be ending several programs in the near future.

The union said the school is closing its interpretation and translation programs by next month, and the English Language and Culture program by the end of the summer.

Budget cuts are being credited as the reason for the closures, but the union said the school is withholding “critical financial information,” which is leading to questions as to why these specific programs have been targeted.

The Teaching Support Staff Union represents instructors who work in these programs, and they said they were lied to by the school.

“SFU assured its instructors and students that the academic mission of the university would not be affected by the budget cuts. (It) said instructors would not be impacted. (It) lied,” said Kayla Hilstob, chief steward of TSSU and PhD Student in the School of Communication.

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“(The programs) are two of 23 programs offered by SFU Continuing Studies. They are the only two programs with instructors represented by a union and the only programs set to close.”

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The union said the interpretation and translation programs are vital for the country, as there are not many other programs like it around Canada.

“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 B.C.,” said Silvia Xalabarde, the Society of Translators and Interpreters of BC’s president.

Vancouver city councillor Lenny Zhou is an alumnus of the English Language and Culture program (ELC). He said it was a “pivotal stepping stone” in his integration into Canadian society as an international student and first-generation immigrant.

“I am forever grateful (to the program),” he said.

“I implore (SFU) 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.”

The program has taught thousands of students in its 30 years of running.

Currently, the ELC program employs about 40 instructors, 18 with continuing status and 22 with temporary status.

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All of those staff members received layoff notices on Tuesday, with termination by the end of the summer.

SFU responding to an interview request with a statement by email.

“Along with other prominent universities in the country, SFU has been facing budget challenges. Declining international student enrolment has had an impact on our financial situation, as have other current cost pressures,” Michael Russell said, SFU’s director of media relations.

“SFU is required to have a balanced budget. As part of this work, we shared that we would also review service levels and identify work that needs to be reorganized.

“It was noted that during this restructuring, some administrative job losses can be expected. That process has been underway this week.”


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