Graduate students should vote ‘yes’ to The Varsity’s proposed levy

A former graduate student makes the case for the $0.80 sessional increase

Graduate students should vote ‘yes’ to <em>The Varsity</em>’s proposed levy

In 1895, James Tucker, then-Editor-in-Chief of The Varsity, commented on academic freedom and the paper’s coverage of the first campus student strike at the University of Toronto: “Rather would we leave the University without a degree than surrender the principle for which we have been contending.”

Graduate students around the tri-campus area often have varying opinions of The Varsity. As a former graduate student, active member of the graduate community, and previously the third-highest commenter in The Varsity’s old comments system until it was retired, I think it’s imperative that graduate students vote for the graduate Varsity levy this week — a considerably meagre sum to ask of graduates, considering its benefits.  

There are a number of reasons why graduate students should care about The Varsity and this levy. First, there is currently no graduate media voice of any strength on any of the campuses at U of T. Three newspapers run by graduate students have existed in the past, but all were run by the U of T Graduate Students’ Union (or UTGSU) and largely failed over time due to mismanagement and a lack of proper resources. 

While these old mediums often framed themselves as rivals to The Varsity, we have to look at the sum of the paper’s history. The Varsity is the campus paper of record and has consistently covered graduate issues, from the recent Canadian Federation of Students referendum, to every major issue raised by UTGSU’s caucuses and committees for ages. 

Second, The Varsity could cover these issues more precisely. And the best way to ensure graduate student issues are covered properly is to engage graduate students in writing and producing the paper itself. This isn’t to say graduate students haven’t gotten involved with The Varsity in the past — most of my colleagues and I have — but the opportunity for added perspectives in the newsroom and on the masthead could only further the broader mission of the paper. An intensification of focus on graduate issues will make it easier for the paper to interpret graduate concerns and, in turn, provide a clearer and more comprehensive picture of graduate life to the rest of campus and the public. Graduate students can only benefit from such a sharpening of the paper’s relationship with graduate life.

Third, as U of T’s paper of record, The Varsity has covered many broader issues that intersect with graduate life. From being the starting ground for the country’s first student strike in 1895, to giving voice to those unlawfully violated in the mass arrest at the GSU Building during the G20 in 2010, The Varsity has always served as an important and critical platform for students to express dissent and bring about shifts at the university. Now, the ideological bent of The Varsity is about as consistent as a weather vane in a tornado, and some really noxious people — including young neo-Nazis — have been published in these pages. However, in the long swing of history, this paper has reflected the campus it has been written on, and those given the reigns — which, really, should include graduate students, given the importance of this space.

With the expansion of the paper to graduates and the promise of increased tri-campus undergraduate populace representation, The Varsity looks to be evolving into a more comprehensive news source for students and the whole campus community. As a long-time reader, contributor, and crank (I’ve admittedly sent way too many late-night emails to past news editors) I urge graduate students to take this vote seriously and vote in favour of the levy. I’ve read most of the archives of this very paper for my past graduate-level research on the development of governance and student activism here at U of T, and I simply could not have done this work without the archival material provided freely online by the paper. If my research experience shows anything, it’s that there is no better source for campus news or a better archive of a whole host of issues on campus and the community than The Varsity.

The spirit of resistance and principle found in The Varsity’s pages over the years is one that has always resonated with me. With the help of graduates and a wider view on all campuses, The Varsity will be better equipped to walk this path. I hope that graduate students take up the possibility of being part of The Varsity and bring their skill, their focus, and their constant contributions to campus life to the paper. Vote ’yes’ and we can see what the future will bring — no matter what, it’ll be written right here.

Brad Evoy is a former graduate student at OISE/UT, a multi-year UTGSU Executive, and an ex-UTSU Speaker.

Report on graduate funding compares income across disciplines

Humanities students have lowest average income

Report on graduate funding compares income across disciplines

Travis Bost, a PhD student at the University of Toronto, has produced a report about the composition of graduate student income at U of T entitled The Quality of Quantity.

The report was released in February and highlights graduate funding as “a quantitative and qualitative problem, as well as an equity problem.” It outlines the incomes of students across years and between the four divisions of PhD student populations: humanities, with 714 students; social sciences with 1,003 PhD students; physical sciences with 1,080 PhD students; and life sciences, with 1,403 PhD students.

The enrolled PhD students complete 24,800 hours of program study with a cumulative  4-8,000 years of paid tuition.

The sources of income for each of the four divisions come from internal and external awards, employment, and stipends. The average income over the last nine years for the humanities is $22,744.69. For those in social sciences, it is $23,433.22. For students in physical sciences, the average income is $23,902.76; for life sciences, it is $26,151.08.

In March 2015, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902 went on strike for a month after a tentative agreement about funding could not be reached. Last month — on the anniversary of the start of the strike — CUPE 3902 staged a demonstration.

The report states there are inconsistencies in the composition of income and its implications. Many PhD students take longer  to complete their degrees than their funding packages cover. The report states that “a handful of Life Science departments taking as much as 3.5 years longer than their Physical Science colleagues” to reach completion.

The report outlines the sources of the funding. While the total incomes are relatively similar, the humanities and social sciences rely disproportionately on employment income, while students in physical and life sciences rely disproportionately on research stipends.

According to the report, Divisions 1 and 2 rely roughly twice as much on employment than Divisions 3 and 4. “The severity of this trend is equally intense, with one D2 department drawing nearly 50% of their income [from] employment and two in D4 less than 2%,” the report claims.

It also states that employment for Divisions I and II increases over the course of the program, but “progressively decreases” for Divisions 3 and 4.

“This contradiction is often obscured by lumping all divisions together.” Bost writes that the “explanation for the contradiction likely is that employment for Divisions 3-4 advances their own work while that of Divisions 1-2 takes away from theirs.”

“There are many unanswered questions due to the limitation of centralized data compiled by the University,” the report alleges.

Bost was not paid to produce the report, nor does he have any affiliations with campus groups.