Money was a major theme of UTM’s town hall on Wednesday, which saw mainly student representatives raise concerns to UTM administration.
The town hall, held in Spigel Hall, was the first this year.
The format of the event was originally expected to be similar to previous town halls, in which students were given a chance to submit questions in advance so that the administration could prepare responses to present at the event, followed by a question period for additional inquiries.
Early into the Wednesday’s town hall, however, UTMSU executive director Walied Khogali proposed a change to the structure to allow attendees to ask their questions first, while responses to the questions submitted earlier could be posted online.
Finding no objection among the audience, UTM Principal Deep Saini agreed to the suggested change.
Students, mostly UTMSU representatives, then proceeded to raise questions at the mic.
One of the main topics discussed at the town hall were parking fees at UTM. One student who identified as a UTMSU director called it “unfair” for students and faculty to pay the same fee for parking, since students do not earn as much as faculty. The student called on the administration to establish a deferential parking fee for students.
UTM chief administrative officer Paul Donoghue explained that parking is an “ancillary operation”, meaning that it must cover the entire cost of parking operations, including construction and the costs for maintaining the lots, without a subsidy from the university’s operating budget.
The rates are determined through the governance process and are designed to cover costs.
Donoghue said there is a surplus at the end of every year that is set aside for future parking construction.
Donoghue also mentioned an ongoing plan of annual 3% increases for parking fees every year. He also said that the Campus Affairs Committee would meet in January to seek approval for a proposal to build a new parking deck next to the current one, adding about 300 spaces, and noted that the project would have a “significant” financial impact—millions of dollars—which would have to be paid for.
UTMSU VP part-time Amir Moazzami added that students pay less than faculty for other services such as childcare and called for the university to look into a two-tier system for parking fees for students and faculty.
Donoghue said the university could look into the possibility but said that if the revenue from parking permits purchased by students were reduced, the cost would have to be covered by the remaining members of the UTM population who purchase parking permits.
Several students also brought up tuition fees and called on the administration to address the rising costs of attending university.
UTMSU’s associate to VP equity requested a tuition freeze. Saini said the university administration is on “the same page” as the students on the issue of tuition fees, but said that the amount of tuition fees students have to pay is dependent on how much per-student funding the university receives from the provincial government, and said that Ontario has the lowest level of government funding per student in Canada.
UTMSU VP external Ebi Agbeyegbe asked if the administration could work together with the students’ union to lobby the government to provide more funding and subsidize tuition.
In response, Saini said that the administration lobbies the government in ways that are different from organizations such as UTMSU and the Canadian Federation of Students do, saying they speak the government in individual meetings and through members of the Governing Council.
“It’s a good thing that messages are conveyed in complementary ways […] because it comes from different sides,” said Saini. “The most important thing is that the message is sent to the government.”
UTSU VP internal Cameron Wathey also took the mic to ask UTM administration to address concerns related to international students.
He noted that international students lack access to OHIP, are not able to run for Governing Council, and must pay high tuition fees, and asked the administration to take a stance on the issues.
Saini noted that the government does not provide funding for international students the same way it does for domestic students, and neither do the governments of the students’ home countries.
He said that OHIP is also a government issue, saying, “If I had my way, yes, of course everybody would get that service.”
Saini also noted that the Governing Council issue is currently “under study”. Saini declined to take a stance on the issue at the town hall, saying he would do so after an informed discussion when the issue comes in front of Governing Council.
DEFERRED EXAMS FEES
One student brought up the registrar’s policies for deferred exams, specifically asking why students are required to pay $70 per deferred exam even if the deferral is due to serious reasons such as illness or death in the family.
UTM registrar Diane Crocker explained that the fees are set by Governing Council and are associated with the costs for arranging deferred exams. She also noted that students can go through an appeal process for financial concerns.
Saini added that the fee goes toward running the deferred exams and said the deferral fee is not an administrative issue but is related to Governing Council.
At the conclusion of the event, Saini thanked attendees for their participation and Crocker announced that the answers to questions submitted in advance would be posted online on the Office of the Vice-President and Principal’s website. At the time of this writing, they are not yet posted.
Town halls are typically held once per semester.