Reignite Ryerson and RSU: Unpacking Ryerson’s tuition fee debate

Three weeks ago Reignite Ryerson took the campus by storm with an open letter targeting the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) and the university administration with a list of demands — all revolving around freezing or reducing tuition fees. Reignite and the RSU have had a rocky relationship in the past, but now a tone of reconciliation has been set. Here’s a breakdown of what the two groups think of tuition:

Is high tuition a barrier to access to education?

Reignite has said yes — this is their core philosophy.

Reginite member Vajdaan Tanveer said “(Tuition is) one of many barriers to education but it’s definitely one of the bigger ones that we’re focusing on in our campaign.”

Reignite has emphasized that it is focusing on all barriers to education, including but not limited to tuition fees, and a lack of support for marginalized students, students with disabilities and students facing mental health barriers.

The RSU has also said yes. At Reignite’s public meeting RSU vice-president education Cormac McGee said, “I think (tuition fees) are too high and I think that rising uncontrollably isn’t a good thing.”

RSU bought this sign to mimic a popular Toronto Pan Am Games sign in Nathan Phillips Square. (Katie Raskina/Ryersonian Staff)

The RSU’s vice-president education Cormac McGee says that he agrees tuition fees should not rise uncontrollably and wants to work to lower them. (Katie Raskina/Ryersonian Staff)

Is it actually possible to freeze the fees?

Reignite said yes. The group is using last year’s alternative budget to back up that claim. Last year, the RSU released an alternative budget claiming that the university could save over $16 million per year.

“I think the importance of the alternative budget is that it definitively proves that the university has money … to comfortably freeze the fees and even reduce them,” said Zidane Mohamed, a Reignite member. Mohamed was a Unite Ryerson candidate for the RSU’s vice-president of education position.

Tanveer agreed, saying the university had a surplus of $21 million last year and an average surplus of $14.5 million over the past 10 years. He said the university can use that money to lower tuition.

Last March, the university said in a statement, that the alleged surplus were actually funds to use for big projects.

“The university is required to save funds every year in order to be able build its future,” read the statement from Ryerson. The university has also said that freezing tuition fees would put a financial burden on it.

The RSU said it doesn’t know.

“To be honest I don’t know,” said McGee in a November interview with RyersonianTV. “I can’t predict for sure what would happen if Ryerson froze tuition right now. The university claims it would really hurt it and I don’t know why the university would lie about that.”

McGee says he doesn’t have access to the information that led to the creation of the alternative budget or the budget itself, nor does he have access to the university’s budget information.

So what are their solutions?

Reignite hasn’t given a solution — it has given demands.

Its solution is getting the RSU to state a firm opinion on tuition fees and then working with them to go to the university administration — and eventually the province.

“One of the things we hear from our student reps is that this is a problem for the province … To exclude the university administration out of that equation is doing a disservice to that process,” said Tanveer during the first Reignite meeting. The group believes that the university can freeze the fees and it wants the university to lobby the provincial and federal governments.

The group also believes that it’s not up to them to come up with a solution.

“It’s not our job as students to come up with an alternative budget. It’s not our job to propose solutions to problems we didn’t create,” said Ledya Mahadere, a Reignite member and a fifth-year politics and governance student.

“It’s not only within the means of the university to come up with an accessible education, an accessible budget but it’s also their responsibility,” she said.

A member of Reignite Ryerson said it is not an anti-RSU group in a public meeting held on Nov. 26, 2015. (Facebook/Reignite Ryerson)

A member of Reignite Ryerson said it is not an anti-RSU group in a public meeting held on Nov. 26, 2015. (Facebook/Reignite Ryerson)

The RSU said it’s working on it.

McGee had a town hall meeting with interim president Mohamed Lachemi and students to discuss tuition and the university’s budget.

In the interview with RyersonianTV, McGee said, “I’ve been in this role for six months now and I’m trying. I’ve been trying to do work and if it comes to it where I have a majority of the student population telling me you need me to get on a megaphone and go down Gould Street, I’ll do that.”

He said, that in the end, the way things are happening now is not an effective way to get things done.

“This playing games online and outside and whatever, and not actually confronting people to understand where they’re coming from, doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked and it will never work.”

With files from Al Donato

This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Dec. 2, 2015.

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