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In surprise move, York University rolls back funding to graduate students

Students allege awarding less funding than promised is a breach of contract


 

Erinn Michèle Treff had an A average when she applied to graduate programs in social work. Not surprisingly, she was accepted by four of the five universities she applied to. In considering her options, one university stood out: York University, which offered her significantly more funding than any other program.

“I don’t have a lot of money and I already have a significant OSAP loan,” Treff says, “so when I was offered a funding package for $14,000 first year and $10,000 second year, it seemed like a no-brainer.”

So imagine her surprise when a few weeks into her second year, rumours circulated that social work students wouldn’t receive their full funding package. Treff emailed her department head asking for clarification, but received no response. A few days later the rumours became reality when a meeting was called: the students must have misinterpreted their acceptance letters, the university said, and they would only be paid $6,600 because the second year only consists of two semesters instead of three.

With the surprise cut to the funding she expected, Treff doesn’t know how she will afford to get through the year. After paying tuition she, like other students affected, is left with about $2,000 for everything else. She doesn’t have time for an extra job because she is already working the equivalent of two part-time jobs as part of her program: as a graduate assistant at York (for which she is paid with the funding package York rolled back) and as an unpaid intern at the Ministry of the Attorney General. The result? She hasn’t yet bought any books because she can’t afford them.

“I was absolutely livid,” Treff says, who added that she had planned to apply for two PHD programs at York. “When this happened, I shredded my applications.” In an online petition started by Treff, her anger is mirrored by over 300 students and sympathizers who have signed in the past six days.

“The university admin should be ashamed,” one commenter Cameron Campbell wrote. “I will not be donating any money to the University when I become an alumni over actions such as this,” pledged Graham Potts. “My family will also be doing the same.”

The anger seems not only in response to this series of events, but attached to resentment that has been simmering under the surface since last year’s strike, which kept 45,000 students out of class for three months. “I will never let any of my family members ever to go to York. First the strike and now this?” wrote Arvinder Singh, adding his voice to a number of petitioners who interpreted the strike and this move as a sign that the university mistreats students.

Treff says that although the strike was horrible, she understood it was necessary and didn’t hold a grudge. “Having our promised money taken away is another story.” She blames the Faculty of Graduate Studies and the administration of the university—not her specific program. “I love my professors and I love my program,” she says. “But it’s such a shame to have such a wonderful program dirtied. It’s embarrassing.”

York University did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails before deadline.

Treff was “dumbfounded” when she was told students misunderstood funding levels promised in their acceptance letters. Other students echoed this sentiment. “There was no letter misinterpretation of any kind. Bottle [sic] line is a contract was breached and we deserve our PROMISED money!!” wrote petitioner Josie DiPlacito. Treff agrees that the acceptance letter constitutes a written contract, and she alleges that York is breaching that contract.

letter

From viewing one of the relevant acceptance letters, it’s easy to understand the students’ frustration. The letter, signed by the dean and associate vice-president of the Faculty of Graduate Studies Dr. Douglas M. Peers, reads, “In recognition of your excellent academic record, York University will award you a minimum of $14,000 in Year One of your full-time master’s study, and at least $10,000 in Year Two of your full-time study, in the form of a tuition scholarship, teaching assistantship, research assistantship, or graduate assistantship.” There is no mention of funding being subject to the number of semesters in each year.

Students also lamented the decision because they have already informed the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) that they would receive $10,000 in funding this academic year, so they don’t qualify for student loans. “I am not eligible for OSAP becasue OSAP believes I will be recieving $10,000 of funding that was in my contract [sic],” wrote petitioner Amanda Rose. “I can no longer continue to pay my rent, food and necessities on my VISA!”

In addition to the online petition, social work students and sympathizers have launched a letter writing campaign. As of the evening of October 20, there had been no response from the Faculty of Graduate Studies. But in an email that summarized an October 20 meeting with students and administration in the faculty of social work, a student wrote that it appeared that the social work administration “has taken a turn and is now supporting us.” However, whether the funding is restored is up to administration in the Faculty of Graduate Studies. Both faculties will meet Monday, Oct. 26 to discuss the situation.


 

In surprise move, York University rolls back funding to graduate students

  1. Welcome to York University. we screw are students.

  2. I am an MSW student in this program and I want to thank you Macleans, the writers and Erinn for this article. This entire situation has come down to York reneging on their promises and trying to use multiple justifications for doing so.

    I’ve always been financially prepared and having this funding for my MSW, especially in my second year, was something I needed. This has caused severe financial distress and I see the results in my grades slipping because I have to get another job, not being able to fulfill my commitments at my practicum, and not being able to meet my most basic of needs. By doing this at the very last minute, with no opportunities to make up the lost income, York is putting its vulnerable students in a position which ensures that they will not be able to succeed.

  3. Sadly, this doesn’t come as a big surprise. From what I understand, this is happening to other MA Students in other departments as well.

  4. What other programs are dealing with the same funding cutback?

  5. This is appalling. I am a PhD student in another department at York, and I know how much we all depend on receiving our minimum guaranteed funding. The number of semesters is irrelevant, as I assume the university knew how many semesters there were in the second year when they offered the funding.

  6. This is completely wrong and something needs to be done about it. York needs to honour their word!

  7. This is outrageous!!! These are students who have to do hundreds of hours of UNPAID work terms on top of their regular coursework and academic/TA obligations, in a discipline which is already notoriously underfunded and underappreciated (by the university and government). In a province where criminally high tuition fees are already the HIGHEST IN THE COUNTRY. And if a university like York gets away with this sort of fraudulent scam, it’ll jeopardize grad students across the country by sending a message to universities that they can renege on funding offers which were PROMISED IN WRITING. Are they also going to cut faculty salaries by one-third since they’re only supervising these students for two semesters??

  8. This echoes the exact sentiment I had when I went to York: money above all else. STudents are just a number. They make promises they can’t keep to get students there and get them paying tuition and after that forget about student needs. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
    I currently attend UWO and am shocked on a regular basis with the amount of funding and support that is provided for us.

  9. This is not an isolated incident. This is happening in many other departments, in a myriad of different ways. This was precisely the issue that led to the strike last year and will almost guarantee a strike in 2011. I never have and never will donate any money to the York Alumni foundation precisely because the money that is supposed to go to students, goes to administration pay raises and research towers that nobody wanted.

    York admin wants to know why admission is down, instead of blaming the union, or staff or the vengeful gods, they should be taking a look in the mirror and start taking classes on student relations.

  10. Am pleased o see the media pick this up. This failure to keep an agreement they offered turns a respected program into a gong show. Integrity. We can has some from publically funded institutions please?

  11. Eric, buzz today among cupe members that music may also be in the same situation

  12. I have discouraged friends from applying to to grad programs at York for these reasons. In my four years as a PhD student at York, a clear pattern has emerged: York promises funding to attract gifted students and then, once enrolled, does not follow through with what they’ve guaranteed but, rather, claws it back in various ways and forces students and the union to fight for every cent of it. It is not only incredibly demoralizing for students but totally deceptive on the part of the university which operates not as an institution of learning but rather as an utterly irresponsible and conniving corporation. And though they specialize in crying poor, this pattern has little to do with declining revenue or financial hardship on the part of the university, which has posted record income in recent years and used it to give obscene raises and bonuses to its executives as well as spent millions on an advertising/rebranding campaign. I will not be donating any funds to them as an alumni since they cannot even follow through on the very minimal funding they guaranteed me.

  13. Apparently, second year graduate assistants in the music program are also affected.

  14. Regardless of the University’s reasons, students signed to enter the program and accept the terms offered by York, who should follow through on their offer. Bad form York, truly bad form. This makes me glad I traveled to Newfoundland for my education. At least MY school hasn’t attempted to rip money out of my pockets.

  15. This is another outrageous example of Canada’s academic institutions failing our students. This is a dire situation: we have our brightest students in positions where they want to continue their education and enrich our labour force, but are expected to work two jobs, take on enormous debt, and in the end have what meagre funding they are afforded (10,000 minus 4,000 in tuition leaves 6,000 to live off for ONE YEAR) is cut in a way that is clearly dishonest (and possibly illegal?).

    Something has to be done about this.

  16. Lots of other programs are seeing cutbacks, especially in these days of research support for “applied sciences”. Who better to pick on than music and social work students; they won’t fight back is the assumption, but they can and they do. York University needs all the support and good press it can get; why this dishonour of a simple contract? You cannot take away benefits already promised, in writing. For a University that specializes in the social sciences, they’ve learned very little.

  17. This is just another step in the coporatization of our universities, and the commodification of our education. York is run like a business: profit, accumulation, and expansion is its main objectives. Not like education is important or anything…

  18. Hi all,

    FES had done a similar rollback on guaranteed funding (the 3% per year wage increase won in collective bargaining) and it took a 2 week work-to-rule to win back the money (about 60$ per year) that they had stolen from us.

    From what I hear, these student workers in Social Work have just won a victory on this issue, and have won back their guaranrees. Great work, everyone!! Strike and fight to win!

    Jesse

  19. Does anyone who goes to York ever graduate on-time and without any problems (such as this)???? I remember when I went there they had a strike that lasted for months. Good thing I transferred out of there. York is by far the worst school in the GTA.

    STUDENTS –> Fact: Employeers would never hire someone from York if they have other options. I know a hand full of companies that York on their do not hire list! If you don’t believe me email a few friends and find out where they work and where they graduated from! Most York grads would have had a “hook-up” to get the job that they are at, unless they already worked there for like 10 years. Most of them will also hold entry level jobs for a longer period of time.

    This is fact because I have implemented this rule in numerous companies!

  20. Bottom Line –> If York doesn’t care to take care of it’s students then no one else will!

    Save your family and friends… DO NOT SEND THEM THERE! The article is bang on!

  21. I experienced the same thing – but on an individual level. After being told that I would receive $14,000 in the first year (I never received a funding offer in the mail), I learned after getting my first pay that I would receive $10,000 instead. So instead of living off of $650 per month, I now have $170 to make do with.

  22. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other examples of York screwing over their graduate students.

  23. CUPE 3903 members who infamously went on strike last year to protect graduate student workers (that’s what the “assistance” money is for–paid work) against these abuses and were summarily villified for it are today saying to anyone who cares to hear it: “See? We f#*%ing told you so, a$$#0les!”

  24. I think that it is a complete disgrace that York would not provide funding for the students in the MSW program. It is a reflection of the lack of value they are placing on higher education, particularily in a program that is designed and developed to assist the marginalized.
    By not having funding they are limiting the number of people with lower incomes to attend. In this case it means that only people who have the resources to attend will be able to. Essentially the poor get poorer and the rich get more educated. People from lower incomes who depend on these financial resources are not able to have access to them and are not able to assist their own communities.

  25. Are there sufficient grounds for a class action lawsuit? The offer letter seems very clear to me – how York can claim that everyone misunderstood the terms is both insulting and dishonest.

    The sad news is that U of T has announced that it is cutting back on its funding at the Master’s level as well (although I understand they were more upfront about this).

  26. Hey out there: Lakehead doesn’t offer as much as has been mentioned here and if you are on disability and struggling to get through school with a huge loan, ODSP doesn’t allow you the luxury of having your pay go straight to your tuition,…this income, like everything else you try to earn on ODSP, was held against you, even though OSAP expected you to contribute to your own situation. Seems like anything to do with government decisions about funding for students is a ‘snow job’,…typical ‘higher ups’,…they got theirs and can’t see that when it comes to education, NOT helping the students is counter-productive,…don’t you just love politics and politicians, and don’t kid yourselves, politics exists in all areas, including the universities. We always have to FIGHT for what we need and what is RIGHT!

  27. FGS is definitely implementing funding cuts along these lines for all MFA programs in the Faculty of Fine Arts.

  28. I don’t see how this is a roll back, just stay for 2 years and get the full amount. You start in Sept ’08 and defend your MSc thesis at the end of Aug ’10. Easy.

  29. If students did as Joe suggested, they would have to pay tuition for the extra term, thus losing $1400. Not so easy Joe. But thanks for brainstorming.

  30. Has this matter been settled? Was the funding restored? Was it restored for just MSW or Fine art as well and any other programs that the comments suggest might have been doing or planning to do the same thing?

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