McMaster State of the Academy Address abruptly ended by protest
Academic provost and vice president Susan Tighe delivered the State of the Academy Address on Mar. 1, which was interrupted by a protest about graduate student funding
On Mar. 1 at 2:30 p.m., academic provost and vice-president Susan Tighe gave the State of the Academy address, which covered McMaster University’s 2021-2022 initiatives and progress and the university's aims for the 2022-2023 academic year.
In her address, Tighe emphasized the importance of experiential learning at McMaster, whether through co-ops or hands-on experience, and gave an update on equity and inclusion initiatives spanning over multiple faculties, including McMaster’s new Indigenous Studies department. She also announced McMaster’s new Digital Learning Strategy, to be launched on May 8.
Tighe provided a snapshot of the year, highlighting some key statistics about McMaster’s performance. According to Tighe, 42,000 students accessed the health and wellness centre, the Pulse saw an average of 4,500 daily check-ins, the average admission grade was 91.9 per cent out of 36,000 students and McMaster was placed thirteenth on the Forbes Canada’s Best Employers List.
In addition to this, Tighe spoke to strategies for growing the frozen enrolment rate and recruiting international students. She also spoke about how these strategies have contributed to the post-pandemic consolidated budget.
“McMaster is one of the very few institutions in this province that is healthy financially . . . but we are facing pressures . . . pandemic closures, rising expenses, including utilities and other operating costs, hyperinflation, and certainly government deficits are all impacting bottom lines,” said Tighe.
Near the end of the address, a group of approximately 10 protesters interrupted Tighe by standing up and reading their open letter, in protest of current graduate student funding.
The open letter, which is addressed to the McMaster University Graduate Council, has three key demands regarding graduate student funding: extending the funding floor to all full-time graduate students at McMaster, raising the funding floor to $24,000 after tuition and indexing the funding floor to inflation. The open letter also discusses current cost of living in Hamilton, citing a January 2022 report.
“The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Hamilton was $1,559 per month as of January 2022, which means the minimum funding floor of $13,500 per year barely covers the cost of just 8 months of housing,” said the open letter.
At the time of publication, the letter has 548 signatures from individuals and support from a number of local organizations, including the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, the Disability Justice Network, CUPE 3906 and others.
At the beginning of her address, Tighe had announced the Graduate Funding Task Force, a new initiative that aims to collect data on graduate student income and offer short- and long-term solutions to combat affordability issues for McMaster’s graduate students.
The protesters acknowledged this task force and said it was not enough to make up for their funding concerns.
During the protest, the moderator asked the protesters to sit down, saying they would be asked to leave. The event finally ended when Tighe came to speak to the moderator onstage, stating that the event would not continue. By 3:30 p.m. almost all attendees had exited L.R. Wilson concert hall.
The planned Q&A session did not take place, due to the premature ending of the event.
The address was open to all students and staff, as long as attendees had pre-ordered their free tickets. . If any students or staff were unable to attend, a recording of the address will be available on McMaster’s Youtube Channel.