Queen’s lays off frontline staff in budget cut, more layoffs expected

Queen’s Arts and Science Online (ASO) is housed at Dunning Hall on Queen’s Campus. Photo via Queen’s University website.

Editor’s note: Queen’s University has confirmed that by 16 positions in the Faculty of Arts and Science were eliminated this week, on top of 17 members of staff in that faculty who took the university’s “Voluntary Exit Incentive” program. The University would not say whether more layoffs are to come. Please see bottom of article for the official statement from Queen’s.


Queen’s University began what some are calling “mass layoffs” this week, which could see as many as 30 per cent of the university’s frontline staff lose their livelihoods, according to some of those in the affected departments.

At around noon on Tuesday, Jun. 25, 2024, Kingstonist learned that several employees in the Faculty of Arts and Science had been called into meetings and that instructional designers in the Faculty were laid off with 10 minutes’ notice. The exact number of people affected is still being determined, but so far, 14 people have been given notice, according to a verified source.

A faculty department head, who has asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussion, confirmed that staff were told that July 1, 2024, was the deadline for what the university administration calls “phase one” layoffs. Also, all academic units in the Faculty of Arts and Science that do front-facing support work for students and faculty have undergone roughly 30 per cent budget cuts, according to the source.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Faculty of Arts and Science employees received a personalized email from Faculty Dean Barbara Crow, titled “Update.” 

It reads: “Throughout our efforts to reduce our budget deficit we have committed to doing whatever we could to minimize impacts on our people. Whether that was offering the Voluntary Exit Incentive (VEI), not filling vacant positions, or moving employees that would likely be impacted by a layoff into vacant necessary roles rather than hiring externally, this has been our focus. These measures significantly reduced the number of positions that would be subject to potential layoffs, as a majority of position reductions were done through voluntary means. Still, the Faculty continues to face a large structural operating budget deficit wherein our expenditures exceed our revenues, and our financial situation remains serious. As a result, today we have taken the difficult step to reduce our workforce further through layoffs.”

Crow’s letter seems to refer to those who have been laid off when she expresses her “sincere gratitude to staff across the Faculty who worked with dedication and commitment in delivering on our academic and research mission, and who helped to ensure our students had an excellent experience during their time at Queen’s.” She then encourages them to “utilize the human resources and training supports the Faculty and Queen’s has made available to them in their transition period.”

Next, she directs her thanks to “our current FAS [Faculty of Arts and Science] faculty and staff” and offers them “a number of personal and professional supports available to you on the Queen’s Human Resources Get Help webpage.”

Crow’s letter finishes with her promise to provide “more information on our plans and corresponding resources in the coming days.”

Queen’s Coalition Against Austerity (QCAA) is a coalition of staff, faculty, and students at Queen’s University that formed to oppose the recent budget cuts mandated by the Board of Trustees and the Provost. Early on, it predicted that “These drastic cuts will compromise Queen’s academic mission and lead to job losses that will hurt those who are already most precarious.”

Members of QCAA said they have been following the situation closely. A post on the coalition’s website describes Crow’s letter as “vaguely worded,” noting that it “appears to have been written in a hurry”; the post also notes that the message itself led “some panicked staff and faculty to believe they were receiving a layoff notice.” 

“That FAS was ill-prepared to communicate publicly about yesterday’s job losses, which have been planned for months, comes as no surprise,” the missive continues, saying that over the past year, administrators have “run a master class in poor management” by “failing to take responsibility or provide open and honest information ahead of time about all the things workers should know: the reason for pending layoffs, the concrete number of losses involved, the criteria for selection, and the resources and supports available to those identified for dismissal.” 

QCAA further shared, “Yesterday’s layoffs were part of the first phase of restructuring in FAS. Planning for the next phase of restructuring has already begun and will likely be enacted in 2025.”

“QCAA understands that at least 14 unionized staff members, including all instructional designers in Arts and Science Online, lost their livelihoods yesterday. Word on the street is that ASO is set to close,” the statement concludes. 

Arts and Science Online (ASO) is the unit that got Queen’s through the COVID-19 pandemic when online learning was a necessity. It also fulfills at least some of the university’s commitment to offering distance education to students living in distant Indigenous territories, students in rural areas, working students, and students with families. According to the QCAA, the employees who’ve been laid off were with the ASO, and they were told that the ASO unit would close.

The aforementioned anonymous faculty member pointed out that “academic units in FAS will have lost approximately 30 per cent of their staff by the time registration for undergraduate courses begins next week. This figure includes laid-off and non-renewed workers, the staff who took the Voluntary Exit Incentive (estimates put the figure at around 20), and other workers who have departed or retired and have not been replaced.”

The Queen’s University flag flies above a bed of tulips on the lawn of Summerhill on Queen’s Campus in the spring of 2024. Photo by Jessica Foley/Kingstonist.

So far, the administration has not indicated that permanent faculty will face layoffs, according to QCAA, who said that “the burden for now is being placed squarely on the most precarious workers.”

QCAA has been collecting information with the use of an online form to better understand the personal and institutional effects of staff layoffs — both for those who have been laid off and for those left in units with the expectation that they will maintain the everyday operations of the university. QCAA plans to use this information in its “ongoing efforts to challenge restructuring at Queen’s and the upper administration’s decision to place the burden of cuts on front-line workers at the lower end of the salary scale.” 

The Faculty of Arts and Science has yet to disclose the amount of money that it expects to save with these layoffs, but QCAA estimates that yesterday’s round will amount to at most $1.5 million in salary savings, which the coalition calls “a fraction of the projected deficit that has been assigned to FAS and an indication that these job losses are driven by ideology not necessity.”

Queen’s began struggling with an over $62 million deficit in early 2023. The “Voluntary Exit Incentive pilot program” began at the university in April this year, which many took as a sign of cuts to come.

“It is worth reiterating that these cuts were forced by the Board of Trustees and senior administration because of their refusal to include Queen’s total income in their budget and because of a method of revenue distribution that is designed to starve FAS,” the QCAA update notes.

“Both of these measures stand against the recommendations of the report issued by the very consulting group the administration brought in to advise on the budget — a report that they suppressed for two years, and now show no sign of following.”

Kingstonist reached out to Queen’s University for confirmation of the notices given to FAS staff this week, and about potential further cuts. In response, Queen’s provided the following statement, which indicates that more staff were affected by these actions than outlined above.

“Queen’s continues to face a significant projected operating budget deficit. Throughout the university’s efforts to reduce the deficit we have committed to doing whatever we could to minimize impacts on our people. Whether that was offering the Voluntary Exit Incentive (VEI) in the Faculty of Arts and Science, not filling vacant positions, or moving employees that would likely be impacted by a layoff into vacant necessary roles rather than hiring externally, this has been our focus,” the statement reads.

“These measures have significantly reduced the number of positions that would be subject to potential layoffs. Still, the Faculty of Arts and Science continues to face a large structural operating budget deficit and our financial situation remains serious. As a result, today we have taken the difficult step to reduce our workforce by 16 positions in the Faculty of Arts and Science. The university will continue to work with impacted employees to identify opportunities for re-employment within the university where that is possible which may further reduce this number. This is in addition to 17 previous voluntary exits as a result of the Voluntary Exit Incentive (VEI) program.”

This is a developing story. Kingstonist will provide updated coverage of this matter as more information becomes available.

Editor’s note: The current budget deficit at Queen’s is approximately $28.2 million, according to the university. Additionally, when originally published, the headline on this article included the word “massive” (“Queen’s lays off frontline staff in massive budget cut, more layoffs expected”). In response to the university’s objections to the use of this word, Kingstonist has removed the word from the headline. According to Queen’s, the layoffs that occurred this week do not equate to a “massive budget cut,” however, the university would not provide the exact number of dollars saved through the layoffs. In the interest of remaining objective, Kingstonist agreed to removed the subjective word, as “massive” means different things to different people in terms of budget cuts.

3 thoughts on “Queen’s lays off frontline staff in budget cut, more layoffs expected

  • Seriously misleading reporting. “Massive” to describe 14 layoffs among thousands of employees. While any loss of employment is bad news, this is just bad reporting.

      • Also would have been misleading as $28 million cuts out of a one billion dollar budget is also not massive. But the headline got changed!

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