Graduate students at Queen’s rally to abolish tuition

PSAC 901 holds protest outside Richardson Hall, Queen’s denies request for comment

Image by: Aimee Look
"We're here now

Queen’s graduate student union, PSAC 901, wants Principal Patrick Deane to abolish tuition for graduate students and increase working wages.

The union held the rally outside Richardson Hall—where Principal Deane’s office is located—with speakers from the SGPS, Queen’s Faculty Union Association (QUFA), and Ontario Public interest Research Group (OPIRG) Kingston on Feb. 7.

The students invited Deane to a town hall on Jan. 17 to ask him questions and air grievances as he’s lobbying the provincial government to end tuition freezes. He declined their invitation.

Leading the protest with a big blue megaphone was PSAC 901’s Co-Chief Steward (Grievances) Jake Morrow.

“Stop running, Patrick, you coward. Because Patrick Deane and the administration did not agree to meet with us, we are bringing our concerns here today, so he can’t ignore them. We’re coming outside of his office where he must listen,” Morrow said.

 PSAC 901 members threw ramen packets at Richardson Hall. Photo: Aimee Look

“[The University] has made [it] clear they don’t care about us. As they make record profits, stagnant graduate funding packages fall further below even Queen’s own cost of living estimates.”

As research and teaching assistants, postdoctoral fellows, and researchers, Morrow said many graduate students work full-time for Queen’s and should be compensated for it.

Astrid Hobill, Ph.D. student and PSAC 901 president, said the cost-of-living crisis is untenable for graduate students.

“We’re hoping to convince Queen’s to abolish tuition because currently our funding packages—even before paying tuition—put us far below the poverty line,” Hobill said in an interview with The Journal.

PSAC 901 said they’re outraged Principal Deane is lobbying to raise tuition.

“It shows just how completely out of touch the administration is,” Hobill said. “We’re all struggling.”

Program costs and low wages will harm Queen’s future research capabilities, according to Hobill. Graduate students are considering dropping out of Queen’s programs and encouraging friends not to apply.

“We are the lifeblood of this university; we are what make this university run,” Hobill said. “We love our students who we teach, and we love the research we do, but we can’t continue doing it under these conditions.”

The protest at Queen’s is part of protests at universities across Ontario for higher wages and lower tuition. Hobill said other U15 universities are decreasing tuition and separating funding packages from teaching compensation.

Devin Fowlie, current SGPS vice-president (graduate) and SGPS president-elect, advocated for increased funding for graduate students. According to Fowlie, there are significant discrepancies between what working graduate students receive and the cost of living in Kingston.

“We need to raise the minimum funding. We need to fight for the financial stability of our graduate students,” Fowlie said.

He pointed out the role graduate students play in Queen’s research goals.

“Graduate students are the backbone of the research ecosystem here at Queen’s. They run our labs they mentor our undergraduate students.”

Video from outside Richardson Hall#ygk #queensu @PSAC901

— Queen’s Journal News (@QJnews) February 7, 2023

Cella Olmstead, QUFA vice-president, said the demands of graduate students have increased exponentially.

“The funding and fellowships have stagnated, resulting in many of our most vulnerable population living below the poverty line,” Olmstead said.

Rather than asking the government to end the freeze on tuition, Olmstead said the University should find a way to counteract increasing costs for graduate students.

“I’m not glad that any of you are here. I wish that all of the graduate students were somewhere else right now, focusing on your research, focusing on your courses, [and] focusing on your teaching,” Olmstead said.

OPRIG representative Maha Faruqi said OPRIG supports graduate student workers calling on Queen’s to abolish tuition.

“Graduate students […] that make the University function are experiencing food insecurity, housing insecurity, and are overworked and are underpaid.”

PSAC 901 Vice-President (Research Assistants) Gabriela Castillo said international students are under attack.

“Stop robbing us of our money. We work like crazy. This university grows on our backs,” Castillo said.

The Journal reached out to the University with a set of questions, asking for a response to the rally and message from Principal Deane to graduate students. The University declined the request to comment.


OPRIG, poverty, PSAC 901, QUFA, tuition

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