Second rally to end grad student tuition held at Queen’s

Last Updated on March 25, 2023 by YGK News Staff

Grad student workers at Queen’s held their second rally in just over two months outside of Queen’s Richardson Hall on Wednesday.

Student workers, represented by PSAC 901, are pushing for an end to tuition for grad students along with higher rates of pay, saying the current arrangements with the university push many students into poverty and poor mental health.

At the rally, PSAC 901 co-chief Steward Jake Morrow said the university’s administration should expect students to only get more tired of the conditions they’re put in.

“When you decide to pay people half and less than half of the minimum wage and when you refuse to listen to them again and again,” Morrow said.

“You have to prepare for those people to keep coming back and keep getting louder.”

Grad student worker unions at a number of schools across Ontario have been protesting working conditions on a wide scale, and on Wednesday members of UOttawa’s CUPE 2626 union were also on hand.

After February’s rally, Queen’s Principal Patrick Deane agreed to meet with grad students but said he would only meet a few representatives, and that invitation was declined.

PSAC 901 President Astrid Hobill says the mandate from members clearly shows a desire for an open and transparent meeting with all members.

She said members want Principal Deane to really hear about their struggles directly.

“It’s so important because so many of these decisions at the university level often do happen behind closed doors or they happen in meetings where you have to register far in advance,” Hobill said.

“It really seems to be done to keep the people who these decisions affect out of the actual decision making process.”

When asked about the rally to end tuition, Queen’s said the topic of tuition is part of a larger discussion around the economic pressures in the country.

“The topic of tuition and the current tuition freeze is part of the larger discussion about the operating costs of any Canadian University and how those inflationary pressures are negatively affecting individuals, organizations, and institutions here in Kingston and across the country,” a statement from the university reads.

“The university’s academic and research mission can only succeed when we are able to offer students the outstanding education and high-quality supports and services that help them succeed.”

The school says it continues to advocate to the federal and provincial governments for more financial supports for grad students.

Hobill says whatever Queen’s is doing isn’t enough for the conditions grad students are being put in.

“We’re currently seeing so many of our members go hungry, we’re seeing horrific amount of poverty within our students who are stressed beyond belief,” Hobill said.

“Them claiming that they’re doing this for the financial wellbeing of all students and whatnot is not true.”

A big part of the problem for members is the exorbitant cost of rent in the city, a concern not unique to grad students.

Hobill says while the focus of rallies is on the university, and increasingly the provincial government, there is some anger towards the city for the rental situation.

She says it’s frustrating to see the majority of new builds getting approved being completely unaffordable, but regardless of that there’s more Queen’s can do on the housing front.

“It’s not actually freeing up anything else in terms of affordable housing in the city because rents just continue to rise throughout,” Hobill said.

“There’s definitely anger towards the city but there’s things that Queen’s could be doing to also alleviate that crisis themselves which they are currently not doing.”

She says at the same time, Queen’s exacerbates the problem by accepting more and more students in a city already in a housing crisis.

She added that the rental benefit newly offered by the Canadian government being only $500 and at a low cutoff point is infuriating.

Hobill says at the end of the day, the administration deciding on salaries for lower level employees, not just grad students, are too far separated to truly understand the affordability crisis.

“From a standpoint of Queen’s administration when they’re making six figure salaries, I really don’t think that they truly understand the burden that is being placed on those of us at the bottom,” Hobill said.

“It’s not just us in PSAC 901, it’s the same thing for CUPE 299 who are the janitorial staff and the trades. They’re also making really, really small wages.”

As they continue efforts to rally both the university and the provincial government, PSAC 901 is also looking for help with their emergency food fund to help support members.

So far, Hobill says they’ve given out $10,000 and without support expect to only be able to run the fund for the next couple of weeks.

As for next steps, PSAC 901 plans to organize with other grad student unions to bring the push to end tuition to Queen’s Park.