Written by: Jaymee Salisi, News Writer
On February 23, 2021, the SFU Graduate Student Society (GSS) held their annual general meeting over Zoom. The event was open to graduate students in good standing to vote on matters surrounding their experiences at the university.
Opposition to tuition increase
The motion called on SFU administration to reconsider raising tuition costs amidst COVID-19. Graduate student tuition generally increases by 2% every year for domestic students, and by 4% for international students, Director of External Relations Matt McDonald explained. Students voiced concerns that tuition continues to rise, despite the reported decrease in quality of online education, according to McDonald.
When asked about the GSS’ role in setting and mitigating fees, McDonald said that “fees are set by referendum,” so they are adjusted according to a fixed rate and set by revenue. He explained that the cost of standard health coverage contributes to membership expenses but the April 2020 Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) emergency funding aided students and reduced graduate medical and dental fees.
McDonald emphasized the motion would put pressure on SFU to reconsider costs by encouraging conversation at a provincial level — 98% of voters supported the motion.
Auditor of the GSS 2020–2021 fiscal year, Gary Wozny stated that the membership’s financial strength improved over the past year. He said this can be attributed to remote learning’s restriction of in-person services, which caused revenues to exceed expenditures.
Additional income also came from the SFSS April 2020 emergency fund which provided the GSS with $17,500 with emergency assistance. $10,000 in SFU bursaries were also distributed to graduate students.
Expenses for 2020 were very similar to the previous year and investments did well, according to Wozny. He said expenses such as office administration varied due to remote learning. The Society’s finances increased by $434,394, which Wozny believes will continue for the rest of the year.
A detailed summary of the GSS’s 2020 financial statement can be found here.
Support of research assistant (RA) unionization
With this motion, the membership aimed to pressure SFU to uphold their agreement of recognizing RAs as workers. Teaching Staff Student Union (TSSU) Chief Steward Katie Gravestock explained that SFU and the TSSU signed an agreement in 2019 recognizing them as a union for research assistants.
According to Gravestock, the university “has continued to violate almost every term of the agreement,” including the “transition of RAs to employee status,” beginning collective bargaining, and providing them with the same rights and benefits as other SFU employees. This led the TSSU to file for arbitration in May 2020, but the university continues to delay bargaining, they said.
The petition demands that SFU:
- Recognize all RAs as workers
- Provide all RAs, including international students, with health and dental benefits
- Provide immediate relief for RAs by reimbursing the International Student Health Fee
- Start bargaining with TSSU for RA benefits
The GSS membership voted in favour of denouncing SFU for their treatment of research assistants.
TSSU organizer Lea Hogan welcomed those interested in getting involved with union organization to email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, in which organizers would receive a stipend for their work.