Re: The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union urges administration to return to the bargaining table

I appreciate very much the conundrum facing TAs and graduate students as explained by Nickie Van Lier. She points out that there is a neoliberal trend at the universities that is transforming education from being a public good to a commodity. Her position is very well argued and justifies a strike in order to restore distributive justice of earnings in the name of the public interest.

I would recommend an alternative course of action. The province of Ontario is in debt, the universities are feeling the pinch, and the responsible course of action in this situation is not to increase the pressure. There are many opportunities to work in the private sector to finance education. By taking up this responsibility, an example is set for full-time faculty and administrators to follow. Besides, when one pays one’s own way (lodging, food, and tuition), a person gains valuable work experience, including enculturation in a working environment that just might be exemplary and invaluable to future success and healthy habits of mind.

As it stands, and I know that this does not address the issue of distributive justice within the publicly funded university, the market-place value for TA work is probably about $20.00 an hour or less. This tells me that anyone who is lucky enough to be making more than the market-value for their work as a result of collective bargaining and membership in one of the largest unions in the country should be very grateful and, as mentioned, respond to inequity by taking responsibility for financing of an education rather than imitating others’ bad habits, exacerbating the burden on the overstretched public treasury. Doing so is an invaluable contribution to the public good, as is volunteer work, of course.

— Andrew Fuyarchuk, ThD student, Trinity College

Letters in response to the CUPE 3902 strike

I grew up in working class family in a small town.  My parents didn’t have much, but what they lacked in material well-being, they made up in heart. Like many parents of their generation, they told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up, as long as I was willing keep my head down and work hard for it. People would see the amount of effort I would put into whatever I did, whether it be washing dishes or taking notes, and they would respect me for it. Doors will open for me — and my parents were right. 

I wish I could say I was the first one in my family to go to college, but I can’t. My older sister beat me to that honour. However, I can say that I was the first one to attend an Ivy League institution. My application was a long shot; I was never supposed to be accepted. It was only a distant dream meant to inspire. That’s all. “Don’t count yourself out,” my parents would tell me. “No harm in applying.” They wrote out the $65 cheque— a week’s worth of groceries— and off my application went. When I got the acceptance letter, I broke down in tears, something a young man from a small town is not supposed to do. I knew making the money work was going to be tough, but I survived by taking an on-campus job, my parents chipping in, and the university topping it off with a generous financial aid package that included student loans.

That dream was almost pulled out from under me when my father broke his right arm sliding into second base during a pick-up softball game. He couldn’t work for six weeks. My parents needed all their savings to cover their bills. They could no longer afford to send money far away to their son in school. I couldn’t make up the difference. Already working 20 hours a week while juggling my course load, I stayed afloat by overloading myself with caffeine to stay awake during the day and popping back Tylenol PM to put myself to sleep at night. It worked, but I couldn’t handle any more on my plate. I had to swallow my pride and ask for help from the only people who could provide it: the Financial Aid Office.

Walking in there was an out-of-body experience. What kind of self-respecting young man goes to beg for more money? It wasn’t me. Yet there I was, telling them my story. They listened. They cared. They gave me a little help. Not much, but not much was all I needed. Yet more important than the money was the feeling that I belonged, that I mattered to them. I graduated because of them.

When I got accepted into U of T for graduate school, I broke down in tears of happiness for only the second time in my life. Not one, but two world-class institutions believed in me. How proud my parents were. The money didn’t matter. I’d made it work this long, I could make it work still. All I wanted was to be around those with the same sense of intellectual curiosity as I did. Amongst the faculty of my department I found more than an office, I found a home.

When the strike first happened, I kept my head down and kept working. “I survive, so can they,” I told myself. But seeing the picketers in front of Sidney Smith struck a chord with me. The bravery to be willing to give up what little they had in the hopes of getting just a little bit more could not be ignored. Maybe the university’s compensation package is fair, but does life have to be so hard? Couldn’t the administration help us all out only a little more as my alma mater once did for me?

The response from the administration was as loud as it was clear. They were not willing to discuss the needs of their graduate students because, as Cheryl Regehr said, “Funding for graduate students has increased to an average of $35,000 across the university.” It’s not. Nowhere close.  Not even those who earned super-SSHRCs have that kind of take-home pay, and none of that is provided by the university. Almost everyone I know is on the $15,000 minimum funding package (or close to it) plus tuition. But that was the administration’s trick: the only way to get that number is if you include the amount we have to return to them in tuition. Though factually accurate, it’s incredibly disingenuous. And they know it. What does it say when the administration holds its students to a higher standard of intellectual honesty than it holds itself?

Yet I won’t be joining the picket line. I’m not even willing to write this letter in my own name. My family values of keeping my head down and working hard run too deep. But one thing I do know for certain: after I graduate, I won’t be donating to U of T either. They’ve clearly shown that they care more about money than anything else, so they won’t be getting a dime more of mine. I will be giving to those organizations who share my values of be willing to give a little to those who need it. Not much, but a little.


Dear Ms. Regehr,

First off, I appreciate the time you are taking in reading my email. I understand how busy you must be, particularly now, but knowing that my voice is heard is what we have always fought for, isn’t it? We are a democracy where all voices are heard, aren’t we?

But I am not feeling that way today. 

I am a part-time undergraduate student at the St. George campus, in the last few weeks of the very last course of a degree that has taken me 15 long years to complete. And to say I am underwhelmed and disappointed is an understatement. You see, as a part-time and mature student, accessibility has never truly been an option for me. I have struggled with balancing life demands, bills, responsibilities, and a very demanding job that allows me the finances to pay for my very expensive education. On top of this, I committed myself to returning back to school in my thirties to complete a degree, which I had been unable to complete earlier due to illness and finances.

It is people like me who rely the most on our TAs. For when I am up, late at night or early in the morning, struggling with an assignment or a concept, a reading or a lecture, it is the TAs to whom I reach out, not the professors. And it is the TAs who meet me for coffee, after work hours, when I am available and patiently walk me through the materials; it is the TAs who stay late after class, who return hours upon hours of emails, who mark my assignments, and who provide me with the crucial constructive criticism that is so essential to a quality education.

It was the seasonal lecturers, graduate students, who taught every single lecture I took in the summers and it was those same people who held every single tutorial I attended. I can’t express how important those tutorials are to someone like me who struggles with the demands of life. It is those graduate students, TAs, and seasonal lecturers who I have formed friendships with in sharing our mutual love of academics, and who I have watched struggle; unfairly and unequally struggle.

Is that right, Ms. Regehr? Have you walked in their shoes, today, when demands are at the highest for aspiring academics and graduate students? Do you know how little $15,000 per year can afford?

Do you know how tired they are? Have you asked them? Have you walked to the picket lines and asked every single one of them what they need the most?

You say your institution has offered them a fair wage and opportunities. I wholeheartedly disagree, Ms. Regehr. Like me, these students are not young people with the benefits of their parents’ support. They are mature adults with small families of their own who are struggling to pay rent, to clothe their children, and to maintain the highest academic standing to which the University of Toronto excels.

Ms. Regehr, give them what they deserve. Give them what they ask for. The university has the money. I see it every year when I pay my exorbitant tuition.

Stop making a mockery of the pillars that hold your institution high above the rest.

Give them what they are asking for or your entire institution, which you have fought so bravely for, will crumble and everyone will go down with it — from the youngest fresh-faced undergraduate to the president himself.

All my best wishes for a speedy resolution, which is fair and egalitarian,

— Kelly Stephens

Dear Members of the University of Toronto Community,

We speak now on behalf of the graduate student members of the Graduate Education Council — the highest governing body of the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto. Collectively, we wish to express our concern regarding recent discussions of graduate student funding and the administrative response to demands raised by CUPE 3902 Unit 1 in its bargaining and ongoing strike.

We are students tasked, by our peers, to engage in this “academic advisory and approval body [which is] responsible for academic policy and regulations for SGS and for graduate studies at the University of Toronto.” In this representative capacity, a delegation of us has met with Sandy Welsh, Provostial Advisor on Graduate Student Funding Support, and put forward issues that all students on GEC are concerned about. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these issues were centred on the pillars of increasing minimum funding for all graduate students and reducing tuition after funded-period (i.e., introducing a post-residency fee structure).

We are keenly aware that these are the same issues raised both within the Provostial Committee for Graduate Student Financial Support by CUPE 3902 and UTGSU, as well as the bounds of Unit 1’s Collective Agreement bargaining. All of the members signed below agree that these issues, regardless of the forum in which they are raised, are critical to all graduate students. We attest to the fact that many of our peers are living below the poverty line and this situation must be addressed immediately and systemically by this university.

We would desire to act ourselves through the GEC to ensure these ends are met; however, we also acknowledge the clear limitations of our ability to do so. Over the last decade and beyond, the School of Graduate Studies has been weakened in its centralized power (in contrast to when the funding package was established), and GEC’s own ability to impact governance severely reduced along with it. Appealing to SGS will not solve issues that are now bound to the central university administration.

With that said, we call president Meric Gertler and the rest of the central university administration to action. Graduate students simply need a guarantee of livable conditions within their time at the university and adequate funding is the only means by which to do so.

As once said by the 2000 Task Force on Graduate Student Financial Support, “[i]n order to advance its reputation as a great research university, the University of Toronto must ensure that its graduate programs have the capacity to attract excellent Canadian and international graduate students and that these students receive the necessary academic and financial support. The University of Toronto’s leadership position among research universities can only be sustained if its graduate programs can remain competitive in terms of recruiting exceptional students.”


— Student Representatives of SGS Graduate Education Council

Re: Glancing back at Goldring

The Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport has been open for five months. Within the first six weeks, more than 4,800 individual students made use of the building, totaling 18,000 visits to the building in that time. Feedback from those who have used the spaces has been very positive. As a new facility, the Goldring Centre is still unfamiliar to people on campus and misconceptions abound. I would like to address some of the unwarranted concerns raised in the recent article “Glancing back at Goldring” (March 16, 2015).

The Goldring Centre has been carefully designed and outfitted to welcome students, faculty, staff, and community members who are looking for a great place to work out, get involved in physical activity, train for and compete in high performance sports, and cheer on the Varsity Blues.

The expansive field house hosts intramural, drop-in recreation, and intercollegiate basketball and volleyball activities. It has a ‘wow’ factor that is already drawing a larger fan base, with crowds of 1,000+ fans coming out to games to cheer on the Blues.  All students receive free entry to any Varsity Blues game.

In addition to the field house, students have access to a spacious fitness studio on the second floor and a two-storey (four tier) strength and conditioning centre equipped with best-in-class circuit training machines, free weights, stationary bikes, treadmills, elliptical trainers, rowing machines, and Versa Climbers. Equipment was researched and selected after extensive consultation with stakeholders and staff members are available to orient students to the equipment.

Monthly schedules for fitness and drop-in activities are available online and are posted by the turnstiles at the entrance of the building. All students may participate in drop-in basketball and volleyball games that run throughout the week with morning, afternoon, and evening times available. As with any new facility, programming will continue to evolve in response to service demands, usage trends, as well as student and member feedback.

Three floors of the building house sports and recreation facilities. The fourth floor is comprised of research labs, and the beautiful new David L. Macintosh Sports Medicine Clinic. The new clinic space provides improved access for students, faculty, and staff needing diagnostics and treatment for sports and recreation-related injuries.  The research labs are focused on the study of sport and exercise — from biomechanics and training to athlete nutrition, socio-cultural perspectives on sport, and sport psychology. The research conducted here is already being applied to services offered at the centre and will ultimately allow us to apply more evidence-based approaches to fitness programming and training that will transform sport and physical activity for everyone at the university.

The Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport has much to offer our students, faculty, and staff. Despite its majestic stature on Devonshire Place, it is still very much a hidden gem on campus. If you haven’t had a chance to explore the new centre, I encourage you to do so.

— Anita Comella, assistant dean, Co-curricular Physical Activity and Sport, Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education

Letters to the editor should be directed to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.