Local media quizzed protestor Marika Schwandt
over the office occupation. (Photo: Matt Frehner)
President agrees to meet with students and discuss tuition increases
By Shawn Hildebrandt, Gateway
EDMONTON (CUP) — More than 20 protestors crowded into University President Rod Fraser’s office in a peaceful occupation last Friday to protest proposed fee hikes and differential fees, and to demand a meeting with Fraser to discuss tuition issues.
The group, an unaffiliated coalition made up of students from the University of Alberta, Grant MacEwan College, and other concerned parties, occupied the office at 4 p.m. The demonstrators met no opposition as they walked directly into Fraser’s office, and remained in dialogue with representatives of Fraser for the duration of their stay.
Fraser’s representatives were presented with a list of six demands, which included “that the Board of Governors delay the tuition decision until more study has been conducted into the impacts of differential tuition, and that President Rod Fraser attend the upcoming Students’ Union tuition forum.”
But after only two hours, the demonstrators agreed to decamp once a representative agreed that Fraser would attend the Monday’s student union tuition forum, and when Campus Security informed them that they could be arrested for occupying the office.
Fraser kept his promise, spending over an hour talking at the forum with students about the administration’s stance on issues such as travel expenditures, differential tuition, class sizes, and government funding of post-secondary education.
The demonstrators had anticipated a prolonged standoff, bringing large supplies of food and water, and sleeping bags and bedrolls.
The demands arose out of a belief that the proposed tuition hikes would create a crisis in accessibility preventing students from middle- and low-income families from attending post-secondary education.
“The list of demands was compiled to bring attention to the fact that tuition is rising exponentially, while the University administration continues to spend money recklessly on salaries, travel, and furniture. And I think we’ve accomplished that,” said Kirsten McCrea, spokesperson for the group.
“We never went in there thinking all our demands would be met, and the fact that they’re agreeing to this meeting between student representatives and Dr. Fraser is a huge concession. But let me add, it’s only a start,” she said.
But Fran Trahearne, senior advisor to the President, said the protest was surprising considering Fraser has been arranging appointments to speak with students on tuition for weeks.
When the student union began running a campaign at that time calling on Fraser to discuss tuition, Trahearne said Fraser had instructed his administrative staff to make the time for students. Six students have taken him up on the offer so far, though about 15 have visited Fraser in the office.
“Just to be fair to the students, up until about two weeks before last Friday, as a matter of normal course, the President wasn’t available on the issue of tuition, because it’s [University Vice-President (Academic)] Doug Owram’s concern,” he said.
He suggested since the tuition decision is ultimately that of the Board of Governors, a body that is largely independent from the administration, the students might have more success lobbying the members of that body.
Although Fraser is an integral part of the process that develops the tuition procedures, Trahearne said “it would be a misunderstanding to think the president would take a remarkably different view than one of the vice-presidents. It would never be too safe to be carrying forward a view that your boss doesn’t agree with.”