On Friday, November 25, members of the executive committee met with the Employer. The purpose of this meeting was to get answers about the fellowship model. This meeting came after months of unresponsiveness and intransigence on the part of the Employer, who refused to answer our emails in the wake of the crisis situation the fellowship model had unleashed.
A list of questions was compiled in consultation with the membership, and shared with the Employer in advance of the meeting. The presentation prepared by the Employer went through these questions one by one. The employer’s presentation slides are available in full.
Funding and Teaching Assistantships (TAs)
We were assured that getting a TA in the summer semester would not be clawed-back in any way, constituting additional funding. In the past, those who worked a 0.5 TA in the summer semester did not receiving the minimum guarantee in the summer. This sudden generosity makes us suspicious that they may be reducing or altogether eliminating summer TAs.
We confirmed that for Master’s students who are offered a TA, their fellowship is reduced to $5403, regardless of the size of the assignment. We pointed out that this is unfair, especially for those who are offered a 0.5 or smaller TA. The employer promised to see how many 0.25 TAs exist, but did not respond to the fact that Master’s students are being asked to work for barely more funding than their classmates who have no work assignment. This speaks volumes to the value York puts on our labour.
Funding and Scholarships
For matching fund awards, we were told that the portion of the award matched by York will be clawed back from the fellowship. The most common example is the $15,000 OGS, where $5000 is paid by York. For a domestic PhD student who is owed a $5403 fellowship, they would only receive the $403. We were assured that an exhaustive list of matching fund awards and their interaction with the fellowship is forthcoming. However, it is unacceptable that this list does not yet exist, three months after the rollout of this funding model.
Funding and Research Assistantships (RAs)
We were told that RAs will not count against the fellowship. This is in direct contradiction to earlier communications; we were told back in the spring that RA income could count against the fellowship model. When pressed to say whether this answer holds going forward, the Employer claimed they have no plans to change it “right now”, but refused to guarantee this, which does not inspire confidence.
Process for Hiring Graduate Assistants (GAs)
Perhaps most baffling was the Employer’s insistence that the process for hiring GAs has not been changed by the new funding model. We were told that all applications for GAs have been approved. An example was given of a specific department that lost all of its GAs — the employer assured us that this department had not applied to hire any GAs, which is demonstrably false. If the Employer is to be believed on this point, it would mean the loss of GA jobs – 691 jobs, according to our most recent count – is due to a lack of applications for those jobs. We know that this is patently untrue.
We encourage every department to apply for GAs for the winter and summer semesters. Since FGS is now claiming they will approve and fund GAs, there’s nothing to lose!
The Employer Reveals “Resources” for Grad Students
The Employer continues to refuse to acknowledge the most dangerous implication of this funding model, namely the loss of disability protections and health benefits for many graduate students. They continue to insist that the $1000 benefits plan available through YUGSA makes up for this loss, reflecting a gross misunderstanding or outright indifference to what the difference between this plan and the CUPE 3903’s benefits plan means in our everyday lives. As one executive member pointed out, in some situations medications alone can exceed the $1000 mark in a single month, which is to say nothing of dental, vision, and paramedical services. The Employer’s side of the table was unmoved.
They closed their presentation by offering a list of resources available to members. They are working on a funding calculator. Several websites are also in the works to help better clarify the funding model. While these are welcome developments, it is unclear why they could not have been put in place for the old funding model and saved everyone the turmoil of this overhaul. Nor is it clear how a funding model that requires multiple explanatory websites can possibly be called “simpler”.
We Need Better Funding, not “Financial Literacy”
The Employer continues to insist that the new funding model is in place to simplify things, and to ensure that students can comfortably pay their tuition. We do not understand how doing away with a system that ensured 12 months of fairly regular income is supposed to make it easier to manage our finances. To this, the Employer plans to respond by introducing a “Financial Literacy” program, entitled “Own your financial future: Managing debt and making credit work for you”, a solution that is as condescending as it is ineffectual. The message here is clear: be independently wealthy or go into debt to complete your graduate studies. This attitude disproportionately impacts those who are already the most marginalized, reinforcing the race, ability, gender, and class disadvantages endemic to the university in general and graduate studies in particular.
While there was greater transparency at this meeting than in the past, the massive delay in setting a date as well as persistent disregard for the well-being of members leaves us skeptical at best. York shows no signs of backing down from this union-busting funding model, and no amount of consultation will make it tolerable to the union. It is critical that we keep the pressure up and make it clear that we will accept nothing less than the reversal of this model and the restoration of nearly 700 lost jobs and all the attached benefits and protections.