During a campus walkout at UTM on March 20, UTM Principal Ulrich Krull agreed to a demand by the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) for the university to take action against changes to postsecondary funding announced by the provincial government earlier this year.
Students marched from the Student Centre toward Deerfield Hall, clutching signs and chanting: “Who are we? We are the students.”
These students gathered at the Student Centre earlier that morning to participate in the province-wide walkout organized by the Canadian Federation of Students, of which the UTMSU is a member. The protest is part of a We the Students campaign against the Ford government’s changes to postsecondary funding, which includes cuts to the Ontario Students Assistance Program (OSAP) and an opt-out option on certain “non-essential” incidental fees, known as the Student Choice Initiative (SCI).
After a free brunch offered by the UTMSU, students were addressed by UTMSU President Felipe Nagata and sessional lecturer in political science Kristin Cavoukian. Cavoukian is also the Vice-Chair of Unit 3 of CUPE 3902, which represents U of T’s contract workers.
Executive members of the Muslim Students’ Association also spoke to students, as did Middle Eastern Students’ Association President Reem El-Ajou.
All emphasized the importance of campus life in shaping students’ lives, and how the SCI could endanger it.
Students also chanted, “Students, united, will never be defeated” and “Education is under attack, what do we do? Unite! Fight back!” as they walked through the new North Building to the Instructional Centre atrium. They continued to the Communication, Culture, and Technology building before settling in the recently renovated Meeting Place of the William G. Davis building.
“All I want to say is that Ford don’t really care about us” reverberated through the area, before Nagata called for Krull to come to the Meeting Place to listen to the UTMSU’s demands.
“[Number one, sign a joint letter with the UTMSU] address[ing] the cuts to OSAP, grants, and the SCI,” said Nagata to Krull.
Nagata also called on the UTM administration to speak to Governing Council to discuss how the SCI would affect UTM students and the UTMSU, and called on Krull to attend a town hall hosted by the UTMSU. The final demand called on Krull to sign a petition to be sent to the Ford government.
Krull signed the document containing these demands, to the chants of “Ulli.”
“Thank you, first, of all for taking the time to protest,” said Krull to the crowd. “This is important: if you don’t speak up, in what we have as a democratic society, your messages are not going to be heard.”
“Recognize that the entire university is, in a sense, impacted by what the government is doing, whether it’s OSAP, whether it is the Student Choice Initiative. These are things that are impacting all of us,” said Krull.
Krull explained that though he had “no problem” signing a joint letter with the UTMSU, he could not sign on behalf of U of T. He did however emphasize that the “entire university” would be impacted by the changes and signed the letter “on the basis of supporting you and the initiative to get this heard by the President and by Governing Council.”
On discussing the impacts of the SCI with Governing Council, Krull added that UTM “already had presentations here locally in governance.”
“If this is a general statement, that there is a concern about the Student Choice Initiative, OSAP, no problem at all,” said Krull about signing the UTMSU’s petition to the government. “If this is the type of language, the type of text, that usually is more expansive, that starts demanding, for example, free tuition, that is beyond what we are talking about here, so that’s a petition I could not sign.”
“We’re all in it together,” remarked Krull, “This is something we need to work on together.”