Further to yesterday’s post regarding the obligations of politicians to spend political capital on our behalf, I post the following video with much satisfaction:
A lot of folks have been tweeting the url and that is a good thing. Here’s hoping that the provincial NDP’s continue to exert pressure on the Liberal government and that such pressure eventually amounts to some movement in our favor in the negotiating process.
There has been some concern about the rigor and clarity of our position with regard to public perception. To some degree I share these concerns, but my experience has been that when the media actually asks folks on our side of this dispute what is going on, there seems to be a lot of great things coming out from our side.
For example, in response to the following article,
…a colleague of mine engaged in a back-and-forth with a Toronto banker, who was skeptical about the coherence of our bargaining position. The following is a brief record of their correspondence:
I found your recent statement in (“We are not saying wages are not high enough, but that our overall funding is insufficient”) to be intriguing because, as I understand it, the UoT graduate student funding package is meant to support research stream masters and PhD students. This package (comprised of a combination of U of T fellowships, scholarships or awards, and teaching and research assistantships) is not meant to be a living as some students and CUPE would prefer or claim.
As a taxpayer, who went to four of five years of graduate school with a wife who did not work and a child to support and no “funding package” other than very limited support from a not well to do family, working and repayable loans, I resent the level of entitlement or “entitled dependence” exhibited in the current discussion at York and UoT. Did you and your colleagues not know what the “deal” was when you enrolled and who did you expect was going to pay for the experience?
We are seeing a growing phenomenon in which the young adult wants to study something that is exactly appropriate for him/her, and then starts to dawdle, or chooses something esoteric that has no earning potential. The result is a 28-year-old who is living at home or off of the taxpayer who does not know how to do very much for his or her self. This is a very contemporary phenomenon, one we have never seen before. The idea that everyone has to find exactly what is suitable for him/her is new and the reality is a group of people incapable of functioning in society in good part because they cannot earn a living.
My view is that the funding package does provide adequate support. The UoT package is rich compared with other research schools in this country and there is no logical reason to expand it. What is reasonable is that the student take on the responsibility to do their part by working at least 15 hours a week and/or assuming debt. The result would likely be faster completion times for the graduate degrees which would then open more places for those in line.
I did appreciate your honesty by acknowledging “We are not saying wages are not high enough” and I can see from your website you are very committed to your work.
Dear [NAME REDACTED] (if I may),
Thanks for your thoughtful email. Before I respond, let me just note that I’m not an official union representative — the reporter just approached me on the picket line — so please don’t take anything I say below to constitute an ‘official’ union position.
You make what I take to be three separate (though related) points:
- The funding package isn’t meant to be a ‘living’, but instead ‘support’, where the latter isn’t governed by the same norms as the former (i.e. it needn’t cover the *total* cost of living for a year as a student in Toronto).
- The funding package, set at a minimum of 15k p.a., is adequate. You offer two reasons in support: first, UofT’s package exceeds that of comparable Canadian institutions; second, students could (and should) supplement their income through a combination of part-time non-TA work and loans.
- The union demands spring from a kind of unwarranted entitlement to study what we want, without regard for long-term employment consequences or the acquisition of potentially useful skills.
I’ll discuss these points in order.
First, the distinction between ‘support’ and a ‘living’ misconstrues the purpose of the funding package. Research students are full-time researchers, part-time TAs. The ‘deal’ that you refer to in your second paragraph is that the funding package frees graduate students to pursue research full-time. Furthermore, the relationship between the university and its graduate students isn’t primarily that of business-to-client. Graduate students contribute to the prestige and success of the university through our teaching and our research. The strong graduate students act to attract faculty and funding to individual departments and the university as a whole (in my case, which is hardly unusual, the university has made upwards of 50k from my research success). So what you are asking us to do, in taking what amounts to a cut in our funding package (due to inflation and cost of living increases since 2008, and moving forward) is to subsidize the university. And I see no argument for why the burden should rest with graduate students to take the hit on behalf of the university.
Second, given that the funding package is meant to enable graduate students to pursue full-time research, at least one of your suggestions for supplemented our overall income won’t be feasible: we already have a part-time job (TAing), so to ask for another would be to require graduate students to take on what amounts to a full-time job in addition to an already full-time research load. This seems both unfair, given the role graduate students play in the university, and counterproductive. The more we are asked to work, the more our other tasks will suffer: graduation will be delayed, and teaching will suffer. These are outcomes significantly more costly in the long-term than a relatively small increase in the minimum annual compensation for graduate students.
If you accept that graduate students provide more to the university than mere TA work, then the ‘take out a loan’ option also falls short, since again you’re asking the graduate students to incur costs in order to subsidize the institution. On a more pragmatic level, if the university requires students to take out loans, top graduate students will not attend. Most of those I know had other offers, and most of those offers far exceeded what U of T offers. Comparing the university to others in Canada is a mistake: we aren’t competing with other Canadian universities, but with top schools in the U.S.
In any case, fifteen thousand dollars has become an increasingly small amount of money with which to support oneself in Toronto. Adjusted for inflation, the buying power of graduate students in the city has decreased by 10% since 2008. And once you factor in the cost of living increases special to Toronto, that figure only [increases]. So at the very least, the deal offered by the university entrenched a long-term decrease in support to graduate students. I’d be interested to know how you see someone supporting themselves in Toronto on 15k a year, given that rent now often exceeds $1000 per month.
Lastly, you make the point that the demand for an increase to the funding package springs from an unwarranted sense of entitlement. I hear this point a lot, and I must admit it irks me. The focus on ‘taxpayers’, for one, misrepresents the structure of the social contract. We all pay taxes. The purpose of taxation is to solve a collective action problem: we all require services and goods that we cannot feasibly afford on our own, or at least not at the appropriate stage in life. Yes, your taxes help pay for the university (though to a lesser extent than they used to), just as someone else’s taxes helped pay for your university education (unless you went to a private university). Your tax dollars aren’t being grabbed by entitled graduate students, they are going towards a system — the university system — that needs graduate students in order to function. If you would rather graduate students weren’t funded, you might lose that which you seek to fund. At the very least, the university would become more expensive to run, since much of the ‘cheap’ labour that props it up would be gone. Paying graduate students keeps your taxes lower, in the long run, since we are the body of cheap labour (both at present, and later as sessional instructors) that enables the government to slash funding to post-secondary education.
Anyway, I hope these replies have managed to address your concerns, and apologies for their somewhat rambling character.
PhD Candidate, Philosophy
I think you’ll agree, the the clarity and precision of this response is applause-worthy. I think that this level of engagement has been fairly typical of most of the news pieces I have seen that actually represent our side of the dispute. Of course, it is true that the University has seen fit to engage in a media strategy of misinformation. However, we cannot control their actions in this regard. All we can do is respond with the same kind of tact, class, and logic demonstrated by my colleague in the aforementioned exchange, as well as many others from folks inside the union.
Good luck everyone. Stay healthy and happy.