The Red T Movement has been a presence at St. Thomas University for over a year. In that time, they’ve held a rally at the school, organized a petition calling for a tuition freeze and, on Friday, had their first formal discussion with the school’s administration.
Members of the movement read a letter to President Dawn Russell and Vice President Academic and Research Barry Craig, which asked, on behalf of the 525 consignors of the petition, that those in power do everything possible to avoid a tuition increase next year. The letter was also addressed to post-secondary education minister Jody Carr. A crowd of about ten supporters waited outside the office of the president during the half-hour meeting.
STU student and leading organizer Denis Boulet said the administration’s response was negative, that a tuition increase next year was inevitable.
“I think with not-so-nice intentions, they asked us what do we think should happen. As in, ‘Take a look at the budget and tell us where we should cut’ as a way of belittling what authority or legitimacy that we have,” said Boulet. “To say, ‘You can’t do the work. You’re not doing the work. You’re not at our level at all,’ [is] just saying this was stupid, basically.”
Administration said there is a continuing discourse over the issue, but a balanced budget maintains their priority.
“With regards to the feeling that there is a lack of collaboration, there is the meeting, the on-going meetings with the elected representatives and the role of the students in building the university’s budget,” communications director Jeffrey Carleton said in an email.
The university is facing financial hardships. The majority of the income is split between student tuition and an operating grant that is below average. This year’s grant from the province is frozen at last years’ level, creating a shortfall equal to the inflation in costs of operating the school. Budget reports from St. Thomas estimate inflation to be between three and four per cent each year.
Freezing tuition would require convincing the government to give more money to the province’s only exclusively liberal arts university, or the development of a new source of income.
Supporters of the Red T Movement say they will continue to apply pressure on the school’s administration and the provincial government to seek a change in funding or budgeting.
The letter presented demanded a reply from the administration by the end of the month, or the movement would “make it their mission to mobilize the student body to resist further increases through direct action.”
It is unclear if the discussion with administration on Friday was a response to the letter or not. The tuition protesters still want a formal response.
Alex Corbett was among the supporters outside the meeting. He said this is just a start for the Red T Movement.
“We kind of expected to be shot down. We mostly all did. If anyone thought everything was going to change after the petition … Well, that’s a nice world. So, now we know that they don’t want to listen, and we need to make ourselves heard,” said the second-year student.
The group will be taking a break through the holiday season, and will meet again to create a new agenda on the first Friday of the new semester.