Council Corner: June 9, 2020

Notes from the latest Graduate Student Society meeting

Chris Ho/The Peak

Written by: Michelle Gomez, News Editor

Discussion with SFU senior leaders about student services in COVID-19

The GSS meeting began with a presentation followed by discussion with Rummana Khan Hemani (SFU’s Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President, Students & International) and Erin Biddlecombe (Senior Director, Office of Vice-Provost Students & International). 

Hemani began by noting that aside from Residence and Housing services and the health centre, all other student services are virtual at the moment. A challenge that their office is currently facing is “how to effectively maintain relationships and interactions with students in this remote way.”

Hemani explained that a group is being formed between Ancillary Services, Student Services, the faculties, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, and the Library to discuss which services should be provided online and which should be in person in the Fall. 

Biology Councillor Allison Dennert noted that many graduate students will be financially impacted in the long term due to having to cancel field research or lab experiments, thus delaying their thesis and forcing them to extend their degree. 

Dennert added that “a lot of students are feeling that the decision to charge students late fees right now has been not necessarily in good faith and not in keeping with [ . . . ] the appreciation toward grad students that I think the university wants to convey.” 

Hemani responded that a lot of discussion took place regarding how to handle tuition in the summer term. “To some degree we’re fairly relaxed on the tuition payment policy at SFU compared to other institutions,” she stated. 

Hemani responded that late fees are not a significant source of income for SFU, but rather “a mechanism through which we encourage students to pay on time.” She explained that SFU relies on cash flow, and thus, it would not be possible for the institution to function if all Summer fees are outstanding until the end of August. 

GSS Calls Upon SFU to honour Its agreement with Research Assistants at TSSU

The GSS passed a motion that calls upon SFU to honour its Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to recognize Research Assistants (RAs) as employees of the university.

As reported previously by The Peak, the joint statement issued by SFU and the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) in November 2019 “stated that SFU would voluntarily recognize TSSU as the official union for all RAs.” 

As laid out in the MOA, collective bargaining was to begin in May 2020, however, this process has not yet begun. 

The motion passed states that the GSS will call upon SFU to honour the MOA, including promptly bargaining for a collective agreement for RAs. 

Director of External Relations Matt McDonald read out part of a recent email received from SFU’s VP Academic and Provost pro tem Jonathan Driver about the issue.

“The initiative has been very complex and while we have had a delay in the dates with TSSU for a number of reasons [ . . . ] we want to reassure you that we are putting every effort into continuing with this critical work of making research personnel employees of the university.” 

Solidarity with Black Lives Matter 

A motion mandating the GSS to stand in solidarity with BLM was carried. The motion includes condemning systemic racism, empowering the GSS Executives to support the education efforts of Black organizers, empowering the Executive Committee to publish a statement of solidarity, and encouraging the GSS membership to educate themselves and speak up against racism. 

Director of Academic Relations Rahil Adeli said that: “Black people continue to face discrimination, murder, and brutality at the hands of police [ . . . ] It is our duty as a society to take action, raise awareness, and create change.” 

Geography Councillor Claire Shapton said, “I’m really glad that we’re writing a statement of solidarity [ . . . ] it’s important to be in solidarity and part of being in solidarity is [ . . . ] criticizing our own systems.” 

The motion was carried unanimously.