The University of Toronto Administration has not returned to the bargaining table to negotiate with CUPE 3902 for just over two weeks. The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) expresses its disappointment with the university administration and stands in solidarity with CUPE 3902 in its efforts to negotiate fair contracts with the University of Toronto. The UTGSU represents over 16,000 graduate students in 85 departments at the University of Toronto, over 6,000 of whom are also CUPE 3902 Unit 1 members.

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Graduate students know that budgets are about priorities, and that these priorities are determined by those in positions of power. Seventy-three per cent of the university’s operating budget is allocated to administrative, faculty, and staff salaries, many of whom enjoy incomes in the six-figures. Sixty per cent of the teaching done at the University of Toronto is compensated with only 3.5 per cent of the operating budget. It is apparent that the top priorities for the university administration do not put students — graduate or undergraduate — first, nor do they reflect an institution that takes seriously its responsibility to protect its workers from job precarity or poverty.

Over the last decade, we have seen deepening commitments to a neoliberal provincial funding structure that positions post-secondary education less as a public good and more as a commodity. Our publicly-funded universities have been transformed into publicly-assisted institutions, a scheme that poses fundamental challenges to the quality and accessibility of higher education for students in Ontario. The UTGSU has repeatedly asked university administration to join graduate students in pressuring the province to provide a more equitable distribution of funding and resources. Repeatedly, the university administration has failed to stand behind us in these efforts, choosing instead to continue relying on tactics that individualize financial responsibility and deepen student debt. What we are seeing now during the CUPE 3902 strike is further evidence of the privatization and corporatization of the University of Toronto, at the expense of students and student workers.

Meaningful gains for CUPE 3902 members are long overdue, and once secured, will support a challenge to neoliberal trends in public education. The UTGSU commends the dedicated efforts of all those on strike, and remains strong in its resolution for the provision of a liveable funding package for all graduate students at the University of Toronto. It is time our institution makes real commitments to graduate student education, and prioritizes sustainable learning conditions for research, teaching, and overall scholarship.

We call on the university administration to return to the bargaining table, and to demonstrate their support for students in their teaching and research by offering fair funding to all graduate students.

— Nickie Van Lier: internal commissioner, University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU)

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