Some deeply unhappy with tuition hikes, others see a way forward

On Monday, May 29, the University of Ottawa’s Board of Governors (BOG) passed a budget that saw tuition hikes rise for the 12th consecutive year. Tensions ran high between students and board members, with the public eventually being ushered out by Protection Services prior to an in-camera session.

BOG student reps

Despite the fact that both undergraduate student representatives, Jamie Ghossein and Carlie Boisvert, and graduate student representative Mark Ingham were all unhappy with the tuition increases, they told the Fulcrum that they see steps to improve moving forward.

The student reps tabled two motions—one to set international student fees in advance, and one to have the university report on alternative revenue streams. According to Boisvert, these representatives are confident that both motions will receive enough support to pass at upcoming meetings.

“What’s really different about this year is we were able to bring those motions forward, and they were actually well received,” said Ghossein. “I think that’s going to bring positive change for sure.”

“We’re not just stopping at the no, we’re going past that.”

Ghossein also laid out a path for further success in the coming years.

“I think if we keep doing this one-time-a-year thing and everyone comes and screams at the board members at the budget meeting, it’s not going to be successful,” said Ghossein.

Boisvert added that this approach could make the board less receptive to students going forward.

According to Ghossein, the student reps will try and get the university to better involve students in the budget consultation process throughout the year.

Boisvert, who was just elected to the board’s executive committee, said that she would try and get a student representative on the board’s finance committee. She added that the representatives would try to involve the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) and Graduate Students’ Association (GSAED) in this process as much as possible.

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SFUO and GSAED

The SFUO and GSAED both had representatives present at the meeting, many sporting “Fight the Fees” campaign signs. Some members of the SFUO delegation had heated exchanges with BOG chair Robert Giroux.

Leaders of both unions expressed frustration with the outcome of the meeting, in an interview with the Fulcrum.

“It’s extremely disgraceful and disgusting what we just witnessed today,” said SFUO president Hadi Wess. “These folks talk about raising tuition fees like it’s just a conversation over lunch.”

“I understand students’ feelings run very high on this, they’re the ones who are being kicked in the teeth,” said Robert Head, GSAED’s university affairs commissioner and former graduate student representative on the BOG.

They were also unhappy with how Giroux ran the meeting.

“I find it very disrespectful to have a chair of a board that takes sides and dominates the whole meeting,” said Wess. He also criticized Giroux’s decision to limit the number of comments made by the BOG student representatives during the meeting.

“The meeting was not run in a democratic or just manner,” said Head. “The student representatives were given an opportunity to speak, but quite frankly I think they were paid lip service.”

Wess also criticized the board for giving members only four days to review the budget. “How can you go through a billion dollar budget that’s 300 pages long in four days?”

The board’s decision to vote on the budget in the summer, when the student presence on campus is smaller, was also something Wess took issue with. “It raises a lot of questions of transparency,” he said. “They know that this is a time students are not present on campus.”

Jacques Frémont

U of O president Jacques Frémont was more optimistic about the meeting.

“It went ok, I think student voices were heard appropriately,” he said in an interview with the Fulcrum. “I think the points were well taken by members of the board.”

“This being said, the board had to take a decision.”

Frémont also said that the Ontario government played a significant role in the rising cost to students. He noted that government grants to the university have not been increasing despite rising costs.

“We’re cornered,” Frémont said. “We’d love to have different solutions than raising tuition.”