Student Organizers from Tuition Freeze Now Meet with SFU Senior Administrators
On Tuesday February 26th, 2019, five student organizers from Tuition Freeze Now met with VP Finance Martin Pochurko, VP Academic Peter Keller, and Erin Biddlecombe from Student Services. The meeting had two goals: first, to receive more information on the proposed budget, as it has been difficult to find detailed information; and second, to urge SFU Administration to set up a concrete plan to freeze tuition at SFU for the next two academic years. We discussed the consultation process, details of the budget, and SFU’s commitment to make student affordability a priority. Administrators lauded SFU’s student consultation process, insisted that students had been heard (though did not commit to any changes to the budget whatsoever), and offered no concrete plans for student affordability.
When asked about both their definition of consultation, and what students can do to affect the budget (a question that had to be asked in a variety of different ways), we were told repeatedly that they “met with the community” before and during their budget conversations. We were never given details on what this means. They could not answer a direct question about what students must do to impact the budget. One of the times when asked about students affecting the budget, they pointed to the “grandfather clause,” which was instituted a few years ago, as an example of student consultation effecting change.
[The administration] could not answer a direct question about what students must do to impact the budget.
When asked about the SFSS and GSS endorsing TFN, they fell back on saying that the admin is simply working within their environment, and hinting that they must raise tuition due to pressures from government underfunding. When asked about what they have done to lobby the government, they responded that lobbying is more powerful when it comes from students. When pressured again on the original question, they affirmed that the SFSS and GSS were adding to the dialogue.
Overall, we learned that the discussions are a little later than we thought, and that they see (a rather vague) community feedback as good enough two-way dialogue.
We asked various specific questions about the university’s financial situation, and then proceeded to general questions about the budget and affordability. The first few questions regarded endowments and how those relate to the budget. According to the VPs, the endowments are separate from the budget, and are governed by their own terms and conditions; they therefore cannot be used to ameliorate affordability issues or fund the capital projects.
Another specific budget item raised was that of faculty vacancies leading to budget surpluses or “carry-forward” budget amounts, as Keller insisted. On the matter of surplus, Pochurko stated that he is “horrified” with underspending. They explained that much of these amounts result from unforeseen circumstances (such as faculty death or resignation). However, this is still a consistently large figure.
While omitting that [Keller] went to school a significant number of years ago under remarkably different economic conditions, he also erased the difference between white international students and those who are racialized.
Both the VPS expressed empathy for students that has not been reflected in Administration’s policies. Keller made a comment about “knowing what it’s like” to be an international student, as he was one for much of his studies. While omitting that he went to school a significant number of years ago under remarkably different economic conditions, he also erased the difference between white international students and those who are racialized. Further, his remarks de-emphasized the financial difficulties facing students from underprivileged countries, when he cited US students who access more affordable education by studying in Canada.
The VPs stated that the Administration tries to be clear to incoming students about their fees, so if international students do not like the fees, they could go somewhere else. Multiple times, they threatened having to make cuts if there were to be a tuition freeze, implying that the budget is air-tight and their hands are bound in the matter.
Multiple times, they threatened having to make cuts if there were to be a tuition freeze.
One remarkable part of the meeting is when asked what concrete plans they had in place to prioritize student affordability; both VPS replied they don’t know. No details were offered beyond the reference to bursaries and scholarships that have been repeated since October, not recognizing that there are higher barriers for international students to access these fundings.
Student affordability is not one of the priorities SFU has currently.
From this meeting, it is clear that the administrative processes and important decisions such as budget are highly undemocratic and excluded of students. Student affordability is not one of the priorities SFU has currently. We need to stand together united to push back on the unjust tuition hike and push SFU to prioritize its students and make its processes democratic!
Together we can do it! Tuition Freeze Now!