Student group Tuition Freeze Now presents at SFU Board of Governors meeting, boos board members out of room

The meeting was cut short by the board after two hours of tuition discussion

Photo: Annie Bhuiyan

Written by: Michelle Gomez, News Team Member

The March 21 Board of Governors meeting was cut short following a passed motion to approve the new Budget and Financial plan, which includes tuition increases. Student advocacy group Tuition Freeze Now presented to the Board just before the motion passed, in protest of the proposed tuition increases. 

Jade Ho, Quentin Rowe-Codner, Jorji Temple, and Giovanni HoSang presented on behalf of Tuition Freeze Now. 

“Since our last presentation to you, students across SFU have made their opposition to this increase felt at every level [ . . . ] students are thoroughly engaged with this issue, as you can see by the number of people who are in this room today,” said Ho. 

“We are extremely disappointed that administration [ . . . ] has failed to address this shortcoming by altering the budget in any way,” Temple said.

“This feels like an abusive relationship,” HoSang expressed. “Budgets, like the one that you are voting on today, are made up of choices and priorities. They are moral documents.”

Following the presentation, Martin Pochurko, Vice-President Finance and Administration, provided more insight into the budget and the consultation process. He stated that the Board’s consultation was extensive and included faculty, student groups, the SFSS, the GSS, executives, and other specialty groups. Pochurko stated that during the process, they heard “loud and clear” the message that students do not want a tuition increase.

The counterargument, explained Pockhurko, is that administrators do not want cuts, as “they are feeling extreme cost pressures; there’s a whole pile of projects going on at the university, and to counterbalance that with cuts is seen as not productive.”

President Andrew Petter noted that SFU shares budget information in a more public and transparent way than other universities. 

Petter explained that there was a deficit in the operating budget last year. “With the proposed tuition increases that take place this year it will only come back to balance. It will not incur a surplus,” he elaborated.

”We have, unlike other institutions, not created a differential international student tuition at the graduate level except in premium degree programs,” Petter said, which was met by laughter from Tuition Freeze Now members. 

After the discussion, the board voted in favor of the new Budget and Financial Plan. Alam Khehra, the board’s undergraduate student representative, was the only member who raised their hand in opposition to the motion. 

After the vote, Board Chair Fiona Robin addressed the Tuition Freeze Now students. “I expect that you are disappointed in the board’s decision, but I want to point out to you that every member sitting on this board has one duty, and that is to the university as a whole.”

To this, Tuition Freeze Now audience members yelled “boo” and “shame.”

Ho stepped forward and announced that Tuition Freeze Now had come prepared with two additional motions that they would like to put forward, in the case that the board voted in favor of the budget.

“We hope that the board of governors direct SFU administration to form a coalition with Tuition Freeze Now and the Student Society to lobby government for funding to enact a tuition freeze.”

Ho asked if anyone would like to move the motion, which was followed by silence from the board.

Ho read out the second motion: “Be it resolved that the board of governors direct SFU to publicize all proposed budget materials as they are developed and be it further resolved that the board of governors finance committee meeting related to the budget and all committee documents arising therefore are made open to SFU students and staff.”

After a loud exchange, Robin responded “there are no board members that are moving those motions this morning [ . . . ] we will take that into consideration.”

This was followed by a round of chants from Tuition Freeze Now and members of the audience: “Students are not cash cows” and “SFU, don’t you F us.”

Robin announced that they would take a five-minute break.

Following the break, the students congregated and demanded of the board to “give us something concrete.”

Despite Robin banging her gavel and calling “order!” students’ protests continued. “Respect is a two-way street,” said Petter.

“Why are we building a 30-million dollar stadium?” asked a Tuition Freeze Now audience member.

The Peak was not able to confirm the accuracy of this figure. SFU Athletics has reported that students will be contributing $10 million to the project via a special student levy, while SFU will cover “any additional costs.” It was also reported that SFU would grant $50,000 per year to the SFSS from 2016 to 2030, so as to offer financial aid to students left in need by the added cost of the levy.

“If tough decisions are being made, then how come the top five administrators at this university have seen an $800,000 increase in pay year over year since 2004?” asked Temple.

The Peak was not able to confirm the accuracy of this figure by the time of print publication.

A Tuition Freeze Now member yelled “they used to call us the radical campus, I think it’s time to bring that back!” which initiated a round of cheers from Tuition Freeze Now members.

Although there were several other items on the agenda, the meeting was cut short when Robin decided to adjourn the open session of the meeting. This was followed by a round of chants from the Tuition Freeze Now students that lasted for several minutes, as the board members got up and gathered their belongings.

Several Tuition Freeze Now members yelled “boo” as Petter and the board members exited the room.

Angela Wilson, Senior Director of Media Relations & Public Affairs for the Office of the President, said in an email statement to The Peak:We welcome student input and we were pleased to have them attend and present at the March 21 meeting, as well as at the February board meeting [ . . . ] after the vote, the disruption in the room made it difficult to have a productive dialogue and so the meeting was ended.”

Tuition Freeze Now held a rally on Monday March 18 to raise awareness about their presentation at the Board of Governors meeting. Speakers at the rally included former MP and current Burnaby North-Seymour NDP Candidate Svend Robinson and Vancouver City Councillor Jean Swanson. 

“I stand in solidarity with you in saying freeze tuition now,” declared Robinson at the rally. 

Tuition Freeze Now also presented at the last Board of Governors meeting on January 24, 2019. However, they were told during this meeting that the Board could not discuss specifics as budgetary matters were not on the agenda.