By Jonathan Fowlie
Students angered by rising tuition fees and program deregulation converged on the Ryerson Board of Governors meeting last Monday night to demand a continued freeze on all tuition fees.
Armed with whistles, noisemakers and signs, the group of protesters rallied in support of a motion being put forward by RyeSAC president and board member Odelia Bay.
In addition to a tuition freeze, Bay’s motion called for the board to stop further program deregulation for the next two years and not increase ancillary fees next year.
And while the board did pass what Bay called a “watered-down version” of a small part of the motion — agreeing in principle to continue a commitment to accessible education — it voted overwhelmingly to postpone the bulk of the issue until their next meeting in May.
As soon as the motion was put off, students at the meeting rose out of their chairs and swarmed the board’s table screaming, “education is a right, we will not give up the fight.”
When it became clear the protesting students would not relent or back down, the board moved to the safety and serenity of the fourteenth floor where students were kept away by four security guards posted at the boardroom door.
Before leaving, the board had agreed to delay the motion to freeze fees because most members felt there was not enough information available to commit to limiting tuition levels for next year.
Bay took issue with this opinion because she said, “[decisions are] always based on guesses and estimates … we never actually identify that information.”
Bay also pointed out “this was not sprung on by anybody. I called every member of the board to ask them whether or not there were any questions about this in advance of the meeting.”
Alex Lisman, v.p. education at RyeSAC, said that if the Board of Governors and the president of the university had been serious about the motion, they would have investigated the implications prior to the meeting.
“The fact that the university did not take this motion seriously, that they didn’t do their research or their homework,” Lisman said. “It just shows that they’re not serious about really considering the student voice on campus.”
In response to this, Jane Langdon, the chair of the board, said the motion was actually brought up at the finance committee before the board meeting.
She said, however, that because it was not on the agenda there was no chance to discuss the motion in depth.
“It was premature at that time,” she said.
Langdon also said the board’s finance committee will review the impacts of the motion before the next meeting but remained pragmatic in her approach.
“No one wants to put undue pressures on any student,” she said. “[But] at the end of the day you have to make decisions. You have to make a judgement call.”
Don Jackson, chair of the board’s finance committee, agreed with Langdon that the issue of tuition increases need to be investigated further. He warned, however, that this issue stretched into a larger debate about “whether there should be universal access to post-secondary education.”
Nevertheless, he assured the students at the meeting, “we will take your concerns fully to heart. We will as a finance committee review the implications of each of the aspects of this resolution.”
Lisman pointed out that, with the motion now delayed to the next board meeting in May, it’s going to be much harder for students to voice their opposition on this issue.
“They know by delaying this vote it basically brings about the death of the motion,” said Lisman.
He said he knows this was essentially the last chance in a protest-filled year to influence the board to freeze tuition fees, and is frustrated that the board and senior administration “thought it was a joke from day one.”
He added that he didn’t think there should have been as much resistance to the freeze as there has been this year.
“It should be quite automatic,” he said. “If you get 3,000 students saying something … that speaks to a very large sentiment on campus. So I put the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the university.”
Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse said on Monday that he does not support the move to freeze tuition fees.
When asked about his sometimes troubles relationship with RyeSAC this year, he said he is “willing to agree to disagree with those who think tuition is too high.”
“I think [RyeSAC] have made their concerns known on tuition,” he said, “but my view is that there re other issues [they should be addressing].”