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Alberta government, U of A facing lawsuit over Campus Saint-Jean funding

Click to play video 'Alberta government, U of A facing lawsuit over Campus Saint-Jean funding' Alberta government, U of A facing lawsuit over Campus Saint-Jean funding
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta's French Canadian association is taking the University of Alberta and the provincial government to court over what it alleges is chronic underfunding of Campus Saint-Jean. Nicole Stillger reports – Aug 22, 2020

The French Canadian Association of Alberta (ACFA) is taking the Alberta government and University of Alberta to court over funding of Campus Saint-Jean.

ACFA said over the last two months it tried unsuccessfully to reach a solution with the province and the university regarding what it calls “the chronic under-funding” of Campus Saint-Jean. ACFA said it felt pursuing legal action was the appropriate move at this point.

Click to play video 'Funding cuts threaten University of Alberta’s Campus Saint-Jean' Funding cuts threaten University of Alberta’s Campus Saint-Jean
Funding cuts threaten University of Alberta’s Campus Saint-Jean – Jun 9, 2020

ACFA president Sheila Risbud said when the campus was sold to the U of A and province decades ago, an agreement was established that the unique characteristics of the campus would be preserved and it would continue to provide high-quality education.

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“The agreement is pretty clear in terms of the responsibilities it puts on the province and U of A, and if you look back from then to now it’s pretty clear that agreement has not been upheld,” Risbud said.

“The current additional cuts are about 13 per cent, which might not seem like a lot but when you consider the fact that Campus St. Jean’s been operating at a deficit for years because it just has not been funded to the level that it should, the impact is much greater.”

READ MORE: Campaign aims to save French courses at University of Alberta’s Campus Saint-Jean

In June, Dean Pierre-Yves Mocquais, the campus’ dean and executive officer, said the financial challenges have resulted in some classes being cut while others have been combined.

“We are cutting 77 course sections out of 409,” Mocquais said.

Risbud said ACFA wants the Campus Alberta grant to match the number of students enrolled at the campus.

“Right now it doesn’t. There’s over a 200-student shortfall and that number will continue to grow,” she said. “So it isn’t a specific monetary ask because we don’t know what that ask will be in a year or two years.

“So it’s just — let’s keep up with the students that are actually enrolled.”

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There are currently around 800 students enrolled at St. Jean.

The province said it will not be commenting on the legal proceedings initiated by the ACFA.

“We will be discussing any actions or responses with our legal advisors,” Advanced Education press secretary Laurie Chandler said.

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University of Alberta president Bill Flanagan said the institution is aware of the funding challenges facing Campus Saint-Jean and is committed to exploring options to help French language programs thrive.

“French education is an integral part of the University of Alberta and we are proud that Campus Saint-Jean’s program occupies such an important space and history in Alberta’s francophone community,” Flanagan said.

“The university’s longstanding commitment to supporting French language learning has not changed. We remain fully committed to continuing to offer an immersive French language educational experience at the University of Alberta.”

READ MORE: Outgoing president says University of Alberta essential to province’s success

Risbud said the campus serves an integral role in the province because it trains a bi-lingual workforce in sectors such as health services, education and business.

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“Campus St. Jean is unique. As Ralph Klein said, ‘It’s the best-kept secret in the west,’ and it needs to be valued that way and celebrated instead of decimated.”

Risbud said if the university and province are not willing to change funding for Campus Saint-Jean, it will continue to pursue legal action.