Chants, boos and jeers erupted in the hallway; posters were torn apart, name-calling ensued and the original purpose of attending the meeting – to engage the board of governors about tuition hikes – was lost.
Two rival student movements — Freeze the Fees and Rise for Ryerson — clashed in a heated confrontation outside the board of governors meeting last week.
The events that led up to the conflict began when Rajean Hoilett, president of the Ryerson Students’ Union and a group of students, pitched a tent outside of Jorgenson Hall on Nov. 17 to call on Ryerson’s administration to halt yearly tuition hikes.
The move followed a rally outside the Student Services Centre. Called “Freeze the Fees,” the campaign demands the university to release a line-by-line budget – a document that the RSU sees as crucial for implementing lower tuition fees.
Hoilett said that the protest was the result of ten years of rallies and petitions to get the province to stop increasing tuition fees. The RSU says it has received over 6,000 signatures for a petition to lower tuition.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported that the average tuition in Ontario has quadrupled in the last 20 years. Students should expect to shell out $9,483 on average in tuition and other compulsory fees in 2017-18.
“Students have seen petitions come year after year, they’ve seen that kind of organizing happen, and I think that the escalation for students on this campus seems very timely,” Hoilett said.
Support came from all around the school, showing that the RSU isn’t alone in its frustration, Hoilett said. The members of tent city received outdoor heating lamps courtesy of the Ram in the Rye to help continue their outreach. They also received food donations and an electric blanket from students who believe in their cause.
However, not all students agree with putting a freeze on tuition. Rise for Ryerson, a counter-movement that says the quality of their education warrants the price tag, brought their own supporters to the board of governors meeting to defend the university. Organizers of Rise for Ryerson said that the RSU’s Freeze the Fees movement jeopardizes the university’s reputation and the value of a degree from Ryerson.
When the doors opened and both groups entered the meeting room, Hoilett spoke to president Sheldon Levy on behalf of Freeze the Fees and a representative for Rise for Ryerson did the same. After hearing from each group at last week’s meeting, President Sheldon Levy said”at the end of the day, we are one big family.”
“(We should) work together to come up with a solution.”
But in a letter to tent city by provost Mohamed Lachemi, he indicated that tent city’s demands would put a severe financial burden on 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. 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,” he wrote.
The RSU replied urging the budget to be more student focused. In a letter, the members of tent city wrote:
“We are looking for the university administration to take a hard look at the current budget and see how we can create a budget that ultimately puts students first. Perhaps that means taking a look at increases to already high upper administration salaries, or thinking about putting special projects like the blue road on the back burner.”
Even though the tents have been removed, Jesse Root, vice-president of education for the RSU, says tent city will continue to represent those who have rallied for ten years for less burden on students.
“The alternative to this is doing nothing. We face the 10th year in a row of tuition fee increases,” he said.
“If that’s a consequence that people are ready and willing to deal with then that’s up to them but I’m not. The students who are on the side of the campaign are not and the 6,000 people who signed our petition are not and that’s what I’m working off of.”