Student Victories: We Make a Difference

Students spend thousands of hours engaging “the process”: Governing Council, Academic Board, University Affairs Board, Business Board, COSS, Committee this, Task force that, etc, etc. When the administration just doesn’t get it… student activism makes the difference. Below is a brief, incomplete history of the University of Toronto’s student movement and some of U of T’s finest moments:

  • TTC Student Discount Metropass (2010) In fall 2009, students in the GTA, through the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, came together and won a TTC discount specified to post-secondary students. The student discount metropass commenced September 2010.
  • National System of Grants (2008) By working with other members of the Canadian Federation of Students, students have won a significant victory in the creation of a national system of grants. The federal government responded to a long-standing call for this programme and announced that $350 million would be set aside for grants to low- and middle-income students starting in 2009. This amount is set to increase to a total of $430 million by 2012.
  • Increase To The Graduate Student Funding Package (2006) The minimum graduate funding package had remained static at $12,000 since its implementation in 2000. Throughout fall 25 representatives of the GSU actively lobbied all levels of the University administration to secure an increase to the package. The University responded to the efforts of the GSU and our strong ally and partner, CUPE 3902, with an increase of $1,000 beginning September 2006. The GSU will continue to build on this victory by working with the University for further increases and cost-of-living adjustments.
  • International Students & Off-Campus Work (2005) Through our national students’ union, the Canadian Federation of Students, GSU members have consistently lobbied governments to end the practice of differential international student tuition fee levels and for the regulation of all tuition fees. International students pay exorbitant tuition fees – three times more than domestic students. In addition, they are not eligible for OSAP or most forms of university financial aid.

    Until spring 2006, International students had been limited to seeking on-campus work only. In April 2006. the federal government implemented the Off-Campus Work Permit Program for international students. This is the direct result of work that our Federation undertook to convince the previous Liberal federal government to allow international students to work off-campus.

    The program was initially announced almost an entire year before finally being funded and implemented. It is expected that under the program, international students will be able to seek work related to their field of study. This will slightly lessen the financial pressures exacerbated by high tuition fees.

  • Ontario Tuition Fee Freeze (2004) After years of massive tuition fee hikes, students, by working with the other 300, 000 members of the Canadian Federation of Students in Ontario, won a two-year, fully-funded tuition fee freeze from the newly elected McGuinty government. This was the result of lobbying to secure promises from two of the three main parties to freeze or reduce tuition fees in advance of the election. The freeze was implemented because students held politicians’ feet to the fire when they tried to back away from their promises.

    Winning a tuition fee freeze in Ontario meant that tuition fees were frozen for the majority of students in Canada, significantly limiting: “what the market would bear”.

  • OSAP Reform (2003) In a coalition with other student groups (APUS, SAC) and the administration of University of Toronto, the GSU developed a platform for reform of the OSAP (student loans) program, to bring the program more in line with the real costs of living in Toronto. This process was a victory for student-administration compromise and cooperation.
  • Universal Academic Appeals Process (2003) The School of Graduate studies, in cooperation with the GSU created a fair appeals process, with enforceable timelines for the University and the student making an appeal.
  • Fees Deferral (2002) Prior to 2002, only graduate students receiving external awards were eligible to defer their fees to April 30. Through successful lobbying, now all graduate students will guaranteed funding – both external and internal – are eligible for interest-free deferrals.
  • Varsity Stadium: Levy Extravaganza (2001-2002) In the spring of 2002, the Faculty of Physical Education and Health held a referendum on a student levy for the construction and maintenance of a proposed Varsity Centre for field and ice sport. The proposed levy was to be $25 per full-time student per year for 3 years during construction and then $70+ per full-time student per year (increasing by 3% each year) for 25 years, or until the $29.2 million loan for the Varsity Centre was repaid. After a long and sometimes dirty campaign, 87% of graduate student votes were against the levy. Overall, 82% of all St. George student voters voted against the levy.
  • Graduate Student Funding packages (2000) Graduate students are fed up with fees. The winter is marked by GSU action, CUPE 3907 action, and a CUPE 3902 TA strike. By spring U of T proudly announces it is the first university in Canada to offer graduate funding guarantees.
  • Committee in Support of Justice for Dr. Chun (1997-2000) U of T dismisses Chinese-Canadian physicist Dr. Kin-Yip Chun when he raises concerns of employment equity in faculty hiring. Sit-ins, petitions and coalition work lead to the re-instatement of Dr. Chun as Associate Professor.
  • Students Against Sweatshops (2000) U of T admin dawdles when it comes to logos on clothing from factories using child labour and sweatshop conditions. Student petitions, teach-ins and sits-ins lead to a No Sweatshop Policy.
  • Corporate-Free Orientation (1999) U of T insists that orientation cannot be done without corporate sponsorship but the GSU with other students, faculty, staff, and community members gather and do it.
  • U of T Women’s Centre (1986) Students demand a women’s centre on the St. George campus. U of T hedges. A front campus camp-out gets the space.
  • Divestment from South Africa (1980’s) U of T admin think it’s OK to hold onto investments in the apartheid regime. Students say no. Sit-ins, protests and disruptions lead to divestment.
  • Campus Co-op Daycare Centre (1971-72) Students occupy an empty building on campus and create a daycare centre. U of T concedes the space and pays for renovations.
  • Hart House (1970’s) Years of lobbying and a good old-fashioned sit-in end the men-only policy.
  • Student access to Robarts Library (1971-72) Students protest plan to have Robarts Library restricted to faculty and graduate students. A Simcoe Hall occupation ensures access to all students.

Activism has proven essential. Get active with the GSU!

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you,
then they fight you, then you win.”¬†Mahatma Gandhi