At the SFU Board of Governors meeting on Thursday, January 24, students from the Tuition Freeze Now campaign presented in front of the board.
Tuition Freeze Now seeks to reject SFU’s proposed tuition increases for the 2019–20 academic year, and is supported by the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS), the Graduate Student Society (GSS), the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU), SFU Left Alternative, and SFU Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA).
Undergraduate student Annie Bhuiyan started off the presentation, explaining that Tuition Freeze Now is “a group of students who have come together to challenge SFU’s proposed tuition increases for the coming year,” and that “this can range anywhere from a 2% increase to a 20% increase, which is outrageous.”
Masters student Seamus Grayer expressed disappointment that there was only one student consultation at the Burnaby campus, because “it was extremely inaccessible and inconvenient for a great many students, including those who spend their time at the Vancouver and Surrey campuses, where no public consultation was ever held.” He noted that the consultation was held “in the morning, right in the middle of exams.”
Grayer later told The Peak that vice-president finance and administration Martin Pochurko approached him after the meeting to let him know that there had been consultations at the Vancouver and Surrey campuses.
“What I said was that we had budget consultations in Vancouver and Surrey and that the invites went out to the University Community but not specifically targeted to students,” Pochurko subsequently explained in an email to The Peak.
“In the future, we will be sure to target students in the invite.”
Giovanni Hosang, undergraduate student, explained that Tuition Freeze Now “attempted to put forward a motion for the administration to draft a budget for the 2019-2020 year that does not include a tuition increase.
“We have been told, however, that this cannot be discussed at this particular meeting because budgetary matters are not concerned on the agenda.
“This process is a symbol,” Hosang continued. “A symbol of how hard it is for us to get involved with the Board of Governors’ process and SFU administrative matters.”
Thomas Budd, graduate student member of the board, thanked the students for their presentation, and asked if they had any input on what would make for a better consultation process.
“Mostly just that the budget isn’t already created when the consultation process starts,” responded masters student Kayla Phillips. “You can’t consult on something that has already been created, it has to be collaborative.”
Jill Earthy, order-in-council, also thanked the students. “It’s amazing to hear from the students and it’s really important to us [. . .] when we are around the table, this topic comes up every year,” Earthy said.
“Your voices are heard.”
President Andrew Petter noted that the board would take the views that were expressed in the presentation very seriously.
“Compared to other universities we have a much more open consultation process already, it’s very much informed by students,” Petter said. “That doesn’t mean that we couldn’t do better, we can always do better. I think that the process is there to illicit and provide input and to provide additional opportunity for the board to hear your concerns.”
After the BOG meeting, some of the Tuition Freeze Now members met with The Peak for an interview, in which they outlined their three primary demands.
“First we want a full tuition freeze for the next two academic years, and that is a 0% increase for all students,” explained Jade Ho, PhD student.
“Our second demand is that we can work with SFU students and the student society to lobby the provincial and federal government to address the underfunding of higher education,” said Ho.
Grayson explained their third demand, which is “more information and more of a consultation process.” He added that it was third on their priority list because simply modifying the consultation process is not enough if the university does not make any other changes.
In terms of the consultation process, Grayson noted that “our argument isn’t that they didn’t follow the rules, they did. Our argument is that the rules are bullshit.”
Ho added that “President Petter’s comments about the consultation process [ . . . ] right after a student just said that we think the consultation process was crap [ . . . ] as a student hearing that, I really feel like what we were saying wasn’t heard by our own president.”
Moving forward, Tuition Freeze Now plans to start a letter-writing campaign, continue petitioning, and possibly partnering up with community organizations to plan events. They hope to get students packed into the next board meeting and that all of this will lead up to a big rally in March.