BoG Shorts March 31: Res fee increase met with dissatisfaction

RES FEE INCREASES

Students and UVSS board members brought dorm room furniture to the lobby of the Senate and Board Chambers at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, creating a faux dorm room to protest the proposed increases to residence fees on campus, which the Board passed during their 11 o’clock meeting.

In September 2015, residence fees will increase by 13 per cent, followed by six per cent increases in the following two years, and four per cent increases in the remaining six years of the plan. These increases will be used to fund deferred maintenance costs and the construction of a new residence tower.

Eight Board members, including UVic president Jamie Cassels, voted in favour of the University’s proposed budget and res fee increase. Three members voted against and two abstained from voting, citing that, though the rest of the budget is sound, the res fee increase is unfair and has the potential to be harmful to student mental health. Protesters left the meeting upon hearing the Board’s decision.

Prior to the vote, order-in-council appointee Isobel Mackenzie stated that she does not believe that it is “reasonable to inflict” an increase of this magnitude on students. She noted that sacrifices elsewhere in the budget would be necessary without these increases, as deferred maintenance and construction work needs to be done and paid for, but that “the magnitude of the increase” sends a signal of instability to students.

Elected student members Kayleigh Erickson and Bradley Cranwell also spoke out against the increases. Erickson stressed that though it is “very important” that UVic deal with deferred maintenance, funds should not be drawn from students. She argued that comparing UVic’s residence fees to Carleton’s is not appropriate, and noted that the B.C. Tenancy Act caps increases at inflation plus two per cent per year. Erickson also stated that, with tuition and other fees going up every year, “focusing on affordability” would be “UVic’s edge.” 

Bradley Cranwell stressed that apart from the residence fee increases the new budget is sound, and he originally planned to abstain from voting. Because affordability is a major issue that often leads to student mental health issues, Cranwell could not support the increase, and was one of the three members who voted against the budget.

“These fee increases on residence will be affecting incoming students, but we still have third-, fourth-, and fifth-year and graduate students, which could see effects,” Cranwell said. “It ended up being, to me, an unacceptable budget.”

With the motion passed, student opposition is “going to become a lot about advocacy” and “making sure that students are aware” of the increases, according to Kenya Rogers, incoming UVSS Director of External Relations. Brontë Renwick-Shields added that the UVSS plans to hold the Board accountable for the bursaries they have proposed to offset the increased fees.

DIVESTMENT

Board of Governors Chair Erich Mohr spoke on behalf of the Board regarding recent correspondence from Divest UVic on Feb. 5 and March 16. According to Mohr, the Board appreciates the input that Divest UVic has provided and shares their concern about climate change. Mohr also noted the student support behind divestment, as shown by the referendum that coincided with the recent UVSS elections. He also acknowledged that the Board recognizes UVic’s sustainability focus and that the fund from UVic’s fossil fuel investments are an important part of the University’s revenue.  Ultimately, the Board agrees with the Foundation’s decision not to divest at this time, while they look into other steps to combat climate change. Mohr stressed that this is the beginning of the dialogue.

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