The GSA Council serves as a forum for the political views of graduate students. To that end, members of the graduate student community at the University of Waterloo have created the following political positions to help guide the activities and objectives of the GSA. These political positions are designed to improve the academic and social experience of graduate students on campus – as well as benefit the wider community of which we are a part.
Ensuring ethical and equitable academic, employment, and social policies for UWaterloo Graduate Students
Graduate students at the University of Waterloo (UW) serve as Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants, sessional instructors, mentors, and more. The GSA is an important pillar of the UW community, and will strive to ensure:
- Transparent (including knowledge of how overall funding would change in the event of an external scholarship, grant, or award) and fair graduate student and sessional instructor funding at a living wage;
- Regular and consistent payment of graduate students such that unnecessary debt is avoided, with an interest-free loan provided if such debt is necessary;
- Equitable and fair compensation for time spent in training or for services rendered as graduate employees of UW;
- Freedom from unethical behavior like discrimination, harassment, abuse as well as the right to pursue action to improve their situation when subjected to such behavior;
- A labour union for graduate teaching assistants, research assistants, and sessional instructors is supported;
- All who are researching or teaching need a permanent working space with enough room for a computer (or access to one), paperwork, storage, and access to a secure location to store sensitive materials;
- Working spaces must be in close proximity to their research group and supervisor;
- Assistance must be provided to graduate students in finding suitable accommodations;
- Graduate students are treated equitably and fairly as well as working to make the campus and programs inclusive and accessible to everyone;
- The rights of graduate students are protected and there is a clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of graduate student employees on campus;
- The involvement of the GSA in strategic planning and other initiatives so that graduate students can be effectively represented at all times in the planning process; and,
- Have a multi-stakeholder committee to address major issues affecting all members of the University community.
Research-based graduate students deserve to be adequately compensated for their significant contributions to the research output of the university. A student’s financial situation is affected by a balance of positive factors, including scholarships, research assistantships, and teaching assistantships, and negative factors, including tuition fees, incidental fees, and taxes. Moreover, the makeup of funding packages varies among departments, with some departments relying more on some sources than others, meaning if one source of funding is increased at the expense of others, this has the potential to benefit some students while harming others.
Failure by the University to ensure net student funding covers reasonable living costs may force students to take on additional paid work outside the University not relevant to their academic career, which could detract from the quantity and quality of time a student can spend performing research and thus contribute to a lengthened completion time. Moreover, financial accessibility to higher education remains a challenge for many people due to rising education and living costs and inadequate funding. Thus,
- Net student funding (defined as total funding minus tuition fees, mandatory incidental fees, and taxes) should be at a level not lower than the cost of living in Waterloo for all research-based graduate students. The focus on net student funding implies that individual components of the funding / tuition equation should not be treated in isolation, but rather in the context of all factors affecting the student support picture.
- Students should not be required to take non-academic work to afford their education and living costs.
- We call on the Federal Government, and Provincial Government, and the University of Waterloo to redouble their efforts to make higher education financially accessible to all.
Students engaged in teaching or research need a reasonable amount of desk space in order to perform their duties. Marking many large piles of exams or assignments requires a somewhat large desk which should be dedicated to the graduate student for security reasons given the nature of marking. Conducting research results in the accumulation of documents such as reference books and notes, requiring a dedicated space for storage.
It is realistic to assume that a large part of the work done by graduate students will be done at a computer, so it is important that departments provide adequate computing resources such that a student should not be obligated to purchase their own computer, putting further financial stress on the student.
To maintain Waterloo’s excellence in faculty/graduate student relations, office space should be mixed between faculty and graduate students, as separate wings for the two groups would dampen relations and discourage intermingling. Moreover, students need to have access to their supervisor in order to facilitate a productive relationship, for which a long distance would be a physical barrier. Thus,
- Each full-time graduate student who is engaged in teaching or research should be assigned a desk with enough working space for a computer, paperwork, and storage of research-related documents. The space should be secure such that sensitive items, such as final exams, can be left in the office. Moreover, this space should be independent of any “wet” research lab in which a graduate student is a participant.
- Every graduate student should have unrestricted access to a computer, whether in the form of a grad student computer lab, dedicated personal terminal, or other option. It is the possibility of the department to ensure that such access is provided.
- Graduate student office space should be centred on a graduate student’s research group, and it is expected that each student’s space be reasonably close to their supervisor, in the same building if possible.
d. For common space, a shared break room with faculty is preferred to separate rooms.
Graduate students require safe, reliable, and affordable housing options that allow them to focus their time and energy on their scholarly pursuits. They are not always in a position to search for housing before their arrival at the university, particularly if they are an international or out-of-province student. They need to be able to trust that residence is a good choice, or that the off-campus listing service is user-friendly and trustworthy. Moreover, there are many services offered to both on- and off-campus students that go unnoticed or under-utilized, such as grocery shuttles, online housing listings, counselling, social events, etc. Thus,
- Graduate student housing should continue to be an area of development to the Department of Housing and Residences at the University of Waterloo. In particular, aside from access for all graduate students to on-campus housing, focus should be placed upon housing allocation for out-of-province and international graduate students.
- Targeted marketing of available social and academic services available in residence as well as off-campus housing-related resources would be an important component to achieving the desired focus on graduate students.
The interests of the University community can only be fully known with the participation of members of the University community, and the participation of members of the University must, as a safeguard for their interests, go beyond consultation to include active involvement in deliberation and decision-making, which requires access to relevant information equal to that of other participants. Thus,
The University should have a multi-stakeholder oversight committee to determine, as the need arises, the presence of risks to, and appropriate courses of action to protect, “the legitimate interests of the University and/or of the University community”. The membership of this committee should include University of Waterloo governors, senators, and administrators, faculty members, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students, each appointed by the appropriate body of which they are constitutive.
The GSA is the sole representative of all graduate students at the University, and the GSA, through its agents, is often called on to make decision on behalf of graduate students at the University with respect to new investments, expenditures, fees, and fee increases proposed by the University. Thus,
- The University should share with the GSA, early on and throughout the development of its proposals, complete information on its proposals, including background, context, alternatives, and short- and long-term impacts, positive and negative.
- If the GSA does not approve a proposal by the University for a new investment or expenditure then the University should not require graduate students to contribute to any associated one-time or ongoing fees.
- The University should involve the GSA at a strategic level in collaboratively generating, assessing the value of, and prioritizing proposals for the improvement of the University.
Graduate students are promised funding through means such as the university minimum funding, their letter or offer, or termly promissory notes. Graduate students depend on these payments being issued in a timely manner to fund various expenses, such as tuition, housing, utilities, groceries, etc., and should not be forced into unnecessary debt due to such payments not being made on time and accessible, or being required to make payments to the university prior to the funds being provided.
- Graduate student funding amounts and dates of payment should be clearly communicated to the student prior to the start of the term.
- Graduate student funding provided as a salary (TA, RA, sessional instructor, etc.) should be arranged to be paid at minimum monthly by the end of each month of the term of appointment.
- Graduate student funding provided as a scholarship, bursary, GRS, etc. should be arranged to be paid no later than the 15th of the first month of the term.
- If the student has provided the university with direct deposit information, the funding should be paid by this method. If direct deposit information has not been provided, or the university is unable to make the payment by this method, a cheque should be issued and the student shall either pick it up on campus or make arrangements for the cheque to be mailed to an address provided by the student for this purpose. Under no circumstances should a cheque be mailed to an address on file without the explicit permission of the student.
- Graduate students whose funding is unable to be arranged to be paid by the times indicated above, including instances of funding being misdelivered by university error, should receive an emergency, interest-free loan in the amount of said funding, from the unit responsible for administering the funding, to be repaid on receipt of the promised funding.
f. Graduate students should be allowed to use funding that will be paid later in the term (e.g. salary) against fees due to the university, to be paid on receipt of that funding.
Graduate students hired as Teaching Assistants should have clear expectations of their rights and duties throughout the term, and not be working without proper compensation.
- Graduate student teaching assistants must receive training prior to commencing their duties, and should not be asked to perform any duties for which they are not trained. Time spent in training will be compensated at the same rate as their duties.
- Graduate student teaching assistants should complete a written agreement with their supervising course instructor to ensure both parties have clear expectations of the role.
- Graduate student teaching assistants should not be asked to work beyond their assigned number of hours without further compensation.
- Graduate student teaching assistants should have the opportunity to correct areas of concern in their work through progressive discipline with written documentation, and loss of pay should never be used as a form of discipline.
Graduate students hired as sessional instructors make a significant additional contribution towards the university’s academic mission and put in significant additional hours that often leads to extending the length of their studies, and are entitled to additional compensation in recognition of those efforts.
The difference between a graduate student’s normal TA salary and their salary as a sessional instructor should not be counted towards the student’s minimum funding.
Graduate students at the University of Waterloo receive funding from multiple sources and in multiple forms (ie. Scholarships, assistantship income, studentship, etc.). This funding is used to make payments including tuition as well as living expenses. Furthermore, the payment status and funding amount may change term by term. It is important that funding offer letters are transparent about sources of funding and net funding after tuition payments in a term by term breakdown, starting from the prospective graduate student offer letter.
- Graduate students’ offer letters should contain a detailed termly breakdown of their anticipated funding sources, payment dates, net funding after tuition, expected cost of living in Waterloo (reflective of typical student accommodations), and additional sources of funding or income that may be available to graduate students.
- Graduate students’ offer letters should clearly outline the effects of changes to minimum funding levels.
- When offered or accepting an external award, graduate students should be made aware of its effect on their funding packages.
- Graduate students should be provided with an updated breakdown of their funding for each term at least one month prior to the start of the term.
Equity issues should be considered at the beginning of decision-making and planning processes to ensure that the campus and its programs are accessible and inclusive to the entire university population. Current funding for equity issues on campus, or lack thereof, is inadequate to serve the diversity of student issues present and leads to burnout of individuals currently working or volunteering on advancing progress on equity on campus.
- Equity should be made a priority of the university and included in current and subsequent strategic plans to be considered throughout decision-making and planning throughout the processes from beginning to end to ensure that programs and spaces are accessible and inclusive to the entire university community.
- The university should provide consistent and guaranteed long term funding and support to initiatives designed to make the campus more inclusive, accessible, and equitable.
Every graduate student has the right to work in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, abuse and otherwise unethical behaviour, as well as the right to pursue action to ameliorate their environment when subjected to such behaviour. Unfortunately, students often tolerate such behaviour because of perceived repercussions and fear of negative career consequences.
While Policy 33 exits, addressing grievances/breaches of Policy 33 through Policy 70 – Grievances is not necessarily confidential nor without repercussions. Policy 42 – Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence can be used as a framework for handling harassing and abusive behaviour.
There is currently no policy on graduate student supervisory relationships. While graduate students are assessed through performance reports, the graduate supervisory relationship is often not assessed on an ongoing basis. A poor graduate supervisory relationship may be a factor in poor graduate student performance.
- Graduate students should not have to tolerate discrimination, harassment, abusive or otherwise unethical behaviour as outlined in Policy 33 – Ethical Behaviour. These rights should be communicated to graduate students from matriculation with frequent reminders, and reference information should be readily available.
- We compel the University of Waterloo to outline expected behaviour in supervisory relationships and provide a framework for preventing and responding to graduate student supervisory issues, similar to Policy 42. Recognizing the power dynamics involved in a student-supervisor relationship, this policy should require departments handling supervisory conflicts to minimize repercussions for students involved. This may involve mediation between both parties, arranging for a new supervisor for an affected student, providing alternative financial arrangements and minimizing future contact with a previous supervisor.
- Furthermore, an independent third party member of the community who is familiar with the faculty structure and departmental policy should be available for confidential consultation to resolve supervisory conflict situations and to serve as an advocate if the student decides to pursue formal action. This role may be modeled by the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator as outlined in Policy 42, hereby named the Graduate Supervisory Response Coordinator. This Graduate Supervisory Response Coordinator could be a member of the Student Advocacy Office proposed in the 2013 Graduate Student Advocacy Survey Report. Graduate students should be made aware of the Graduate Supervisory Response Coordinator and their role through frequent communication, and reference information should be readily available.
- Departments should provide a mechanism for graduate students to provide confidential feedback on the graduate student supervisor relationship, preferably during the graduate student performance assessment process (i.e., term activity reports, committee meetings, etc.). This feedback should be reviewed by a non-faculty member of the department who has mental health training. The Graduate Supervisory Response Coordinator should also receive this information to maintain a long-term record, review ongoing patterns and recognize when to contact a graduate student to investigate their situation in more detail.
Text will be added shortly, per the direction of Council.
Encouraging the University of Waterloo and wider Region of Waterloo community to be leaders in sustainability
The UW-GSA will work with the University of Waterloo to ensure that environmental sustainability is considered in all University actions affecting the graduate student community. UWaterloo and the Region of Waterloo have a role to play in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation, and GSA will strive to ensure:
- UW and the Region of Waterloo support green building design, green power sources, increased naturalization, demand-side transportation planning, sustainable food, and community education programs;
- Campus and community carbon emissions are reduced annually; and,
- The President and Board of Governors of the University of Waterloo commit to no new investment in fossil fuel companies, and to divest the University’s endowment fund from any existing holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies.
The university has the potential to become a community leader if it proceeds with initiatives such as green building design, green power sources, increased campus naturalization, demand-side transportation planning, sustainable food, and community education programs. Reductions in longterm energy or materials costs will free more of the university’s operating budget to be spent on academic priorities, and reduce the financial pressure to increase tuition fees. Given the decentralized administrative structure of the university, some form of central monitoring is necessary to gauge the university’s success on this issue. For the same reason, a mechanism for sharing best practices is needed to ensure that a good idea developed by one unit propagates throughout the university. Thus,
The University of Waterloo should consider the long-term environmental sustainability of its operations to be a top priority and that all units should explore initiatives to make their activities more sustainable. A mechanism should exist to monitor these efforts and to facilitate the sharing of best practices on sustainability issues on campus.
Graduate student tuition and incidental ancillary fees contribute to the University of Waterloo’s endowment fund, of which approximately 7% (as of May 2017) are invested in fossil fuel companies, worth approximately $27 million. As detailed in multiple IPCC Assessment Reports and COP meetings, the scientific and international community are clear in their consensus that in order to safeguard a stable climate, the average global temperature not rise more than 2C above the pre-industrial average temperature. There is also consensus that any plausible chance of achieving this goal requires 60-80% of known and accessible fossil fuel reserves to remain in the ground and never get combusted. Continuing to invest in fossil fuel companies is contrary to this objective, and treats these materials as if they will make it to the consumption stage and be burned. The
GSA-UW signals its express desire that the University of Waterloo divest any existing holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies from its endowment fund.
- The GSA-UW Council urges the President and Board of Governors of the University of Waterloo to commit to no new investment in fossil fuel companies, and to divest the University’s endowment fund from any existing holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies.
- To that end, the President and Board of Governors should also develop a plan for such divestment over the short and medium terms and share that plan with the wider University community.
Mitigating barriers to pursuing graduate education in Ontario
The GSA-UW is concerned about the financial barriers towards pursuing graduate education imposed by high tuition fees and policies that eliminate free tuition for low-income students, the favoring of loans over grants, and eliminating the six-month grace period on repaying loans. Graduate education should not be just for the privileged, and the GSA will strive to ensure:
- That UWaterloo does not balance domestic tuition cuts by raises to international student tuition or by cutting financial support of any form to students;
- The provincial government reverse policies that are negatively impacting graduate education in Ontario; and,
- GSA-UW fees are equitable, thoroughly reviewed in accordance with GSA policy, and provide maximum value to graduate students at UW.
Graduate students are greatly concerned about the impacts on the costs of their education as a result of recent announcements by the provincial government to implement a 10% cut in tuition for domestic students, eliminate free tuition for low-income students, and offer fewer grants and instead offering loans, and eliminate the six-month grace period on repaying loans. Graduate students’ funding packages already put them below the low income cut off in Waterloo, and further impacts to their net funding would be detrimental to their finances, health, and well being.
- The university should not balance this tuition cut by raises to international student tuition or by cutting financial support of any form to students.
- The provincial government should reverse its decisions to eliminate free tuition for low income students, provide fewer grants to students through OSAP, and eliminate the six-month grace period on repaying loans through OSAP.
- Graduate students should remain eligible for grants and loans through OSAP.
The GSA-UW Council is greatly concerned about the recent announcement to allow students to opt-out of ancillary fees. The GSA fees provide a number of services for the benefit of graduate students that have been approved by graduate students, whether directly through referendum, or indirectly through their elected representatives, and such services, including those deemed essential by the provincial government such as transit, health, and dental plans, could not be maintained without the collective bargaining power of all graduate students.
Graduate student associations should have the right to assess fees without allowing students to opt-out if the membership has determined that the fee should be mandatory.
Supporting student mental wellness
The university is making various strides in the area of mental wellness, but the majority of mental wellness social programming is organized by student organizations. The university should be a leader in this initiative, both by addressing the common causes of graduate student mental illness (inadequate funding, student-supervisor issues, and graduate student isolation) and providing additional supports. Mental wellness supports are a right for all graduate students, and the GSA will strive to ensure:
- The university consider the underlying causes of graduate student mental illness and make strides to address these causes;
- The university should provide additional counselling opportunities, and organize additional programming focused on student mental wellness;
- The university should hire additional staff to support mental wellness; and,
- GSA fees should be directed towards student mental wellness services and events.
The university is making various strides in the area of mental wellness, but the majority of mental wellness social programming is organized by student organizations. The university should be a leader in this initiative, both by addressing the common causes of graduate student mental illness (inadequate funding, student-supervisor issues, and graduate student isolation) and providing additional supports. Moreover, there should be staff members dedicated to supporting graduate students’ mental wellness as they progress through their degrees.
- The university should consider the underlying causes of graduate student mental illness and make strides to address these causes.
- The university should provide additional counselling opportunities, and organize additional programming focused on student mental wellness, in particular without requiring a multi-session commitment, in addition to continuing its events aimed at removing the stigma associated with mental illness.
- The university should hire additional staff to support mental wellness, and in particular strive to implement “Student Wellness Coordinator” positions to support every graduate student, modelled under the positions currently being hired in the Faculty of Engineering.