Protesters who were camped out in front of Jorgenson Hall met with Ryerson administrators Monday, in an effort to soothe relations between the university and disgruntled students upset with rising tuition fees.
President Sheldon Levy confirmed the meeting Monday.
“We met with them this morning,” Levy told The Ryersonian. “I don’t think there was any acrimony there.”
But he was careful not to declare an end to the tension that’s built in recent weeks between protesters and university administrators, who’ve butted heads over rising tuition fees.
“That doesn’t mean there’s perfect alignment — I don’t mean to suggest that,” Levy said. “I don’t know if anyone will ever be satisfied.”
He said he met with the protesters, many of whom are Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) staff, to discuss plans for an alternative budget — one that would freeze tuition fees without cutting department budgets, a hallmark of the RSU’s recent Freeze the Fees campaign.
The talks come in the wake of protests that culminated in an campout near Jorgenson Hall, the campus building where many administration offices are housed.
Protesters said they would remain in the tent city until their demands, including a meeting with Levy, were met.
The tents were taken down Monday night, following the meeting.
Levy echoed previous comments made by the provost, Mohamed Lachemi, in a letter to protesters. Lachemi wrote that implementing the RSU’s demands would mean a budgetary shortfall of millions of dollars — something that he said was untenable for the university.
“Our calculations determine that the total cost of two of the items you identified — no fee increase, no budget cuts — would be approximately $14 million in the first year alone,” said Lachemi in a letter to RSU executives last week.
“This would climb to a cumulative impact of about $300 million in year five and $800 million in year 10. We can provide more detail when we have an opportunity to meet.”
In an interview with The Ryersonian Monday, Levy said: “One of the things that we have to balance all the time is both quality, affordability and we can’t run deficits.
“And we have labour negotiations and things like that. So you can’t address one issue; we have the responsibility of addressing many issues and I’ve explained that to them. I think they certainly understood it.”
Various RSU executives were at the meeting, including vice-president of education Jesse Root, who has spearheaded the union’s Freeze the Fees campaign in recent weeks. Representatives of the university’s administration were also there, including Levy, Lachemi and Janice Winton, who will serve as interim vice-president finance and administration when Julia Hanigsberg steps down from that post this month.
Previous efforts to bring the two sides together had failed. Last week, when Lachemi wrote the letter, he offered to speak with the RSU.
But its leaders refused to participate in those talks because they only promised an appearance by Ryerson financial officers, not Levy, Root said.
“We said that that (meeting) was not adequate because that happens anyways, through the budget consultation process,” said Root. “So we wanted a meeting where Sheldon Levy was there … because Sheldon Levy is the link to the board of governors who has the opportunity to make these (financial) decisions.”
Root said he is “cautiously optimistic” about talks with the administration.
He also confirmed that the administration had issued a letter to the RSU — one provision outlined during the meeting — detailing the university’s response to demands made during the past weeks’ protests.
But Root wouldn’t confirm the content of the letter. He said that the RSU needs to consult with its executives, Ryerson students, and other stakeholders in the protests — including the Canadian Union of Public Employees — before any announcement on the letter can be made.
“We have some consulting to do to see if folks are happy with the content of that letter,” Root said. “And we’ll get back to folks when we’re ready to make that determination.”