McGill graduate students are now being charged for study space in the Ferrier Building. Principal Heather Munroe-Blum was surprised when the issue was brought to her attention at the principal’s town hall last Tuesday.
Emily Essert, PhD 5 in English, who informed Munroe-Blum of the issue, expressed her offense at the offer of study space for rent. “What I have found in my time here as a graduate student – which is vastly different from what I had expected arriving – is that we are a department of have and have-nots,” she said. She explained that for graduate students, “one of the more recent options has been paid study space, offered in Ferrier. Which, frankly, just isn’t appropriate.”
Munroe-Blum was unaware that an offer of study space for rent was made to Arts graduate students in a November 8 email from Juliet Johnson, the Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies for the Faculty of Arts. Graduate students are given the opportunity to apply for the spaces, which will cost $200 for January to August 2011.
Johnson, however, said that the offer is an attempt to give Arts graduate students the study space which, as Essert pointed out, isn’t always readily available.
“The controversy is actually a little bit surprising to me, because I made this decision specifically out of equity concerns,” said Johnson. “There are only twelve spaces, and there are over 800 graduate students in the Faculty of Arts. … There’s no space in Arts that is actually accessible to any needy graduate student. So I wanted to make sure that these spaces would be allocated on the basis of equity. So what I want in these spaces [are] people who are really going to use them every day – graduate students who really need the space.”
The fee, said Johnson, is an attempt to ensure that the study space won’t be wasted, as well as to raise money for Arts graduate student travel awards. Johnson is also hoping that, for the majority of the rentals, the student will not pay the fee.
“There’s an option for the students to do it, because I wanted that option to be there, but the idea really is that the department or supervisor [pays the fee]. And that’s simply because if the space is free, then it’s not necessarily going to go to the people who really care about it. … This tiny fee is, I think, going to be enough to keep people from taking spaces who really only want to use it a couple hours a week.”
Essert, however, insists that a study space paid for by the department is little better than a space paid for by a student. “I still think that’s inappropriate,” she said, “because our department doesn’t have money for that either. The departments are also constantly saying, ‘We don’t have money for this, we don’t have money for that,’ so I don’t know where they would suddenly find extra money to pay for study space.”
“All grad students deserve a place to work,” Essert said. “It’s not a privilege, it’s a necessity. You have got to have a place to store your books and you’ve got to have a quiet place to work in. That’s not some kind of special frill that people can pay for, it’s a necessity. The idea of charging for a necessity like that just struck me as absurd.”