An Open Letter to the School of Graduate Studies at the University of New Brunswick

LATEST UPDATE (2PM, June 12, 2017): The UNB GSA has clarified on behalf of the SGS via email to all UNB Fredericton graduate students:


On Tuesday, May 30, 2017 an email was sent to the graduate students at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) from the School of Graduate Studies (SGS). A portion of it is quoted below:

“Commencing July 1, 2017 confirmation of enrolment letters will be subject to a $15 processing fee. Before submitting a request for confirmation letter, students must first pay a $15.00 processing fee, payable in person at the School of Graduate Studies, or by phone.”

In response, I sent the following email:

Dear [SGS contact],

I felt compelled to respond to your most recent email re: Confirmation of Enrolment letters, since I feel that the decision to charge students for these documents is unreasonable, discriminatory, and amateur. I have outlined my concerns in more detail:

The charge is unreasonableStudents (both undergraduate and graduate) pay thousands of dollars in tuition to be enrolled at UNB. In fact, they will soon be paying even more to be enrolled, since a tuition hike has been included in the most recent UNB budget. Included in this tuition is presumably enough overhead to provide students with basic administrative services including, but not limited to: processing their registration and tuition payment and confirmation that their registration and tuition payment was processed. In day-to-day business interactions, this would be referred to as payment (i.e. tuition money) followed by a receipt of payment (i.e. confirmation of enrolment letter). It is unreasonable that, after paying thousands of dollars in tuition, the university finds it difficult to provide its students with confirmation that they paid these thousands of dollars.

The charge is discriminatoryOften, in order to pay these thousands of dollars in tuition, students who are less fortunate must take out bank or government loans or lines of credit so that they might benefit from the education that this institution provides. These loans and lines of credit require confirmation of enrolment documents on a yearly basis and sometimes (near the end of graduate degrees) each semester. To charge less fortunate students more than wealthy students (who do not have to endure the inconvenience of paperwork associated with student debt) is an obvious form of discrimination based on socioeconomic status that may negatively impact multiple minority groups.

The charge is amateur. At other Canadian institutions (e.g. Queen’s University, University of Guelph, etc.), confirmation of enrolment letters are given to students free of charge, in recognition of their necessity for the disbursement of student loans and lines of credit, as well as RESPs. To charge for such basic paperwork makes UNB seem unprofessional, incompetent, and petty – unwilling to provide students with a semblance of the service they might receive at another Canadian institution. This extra, unreasonable charge adds to the growing list of bloated administrative red tape that makes this university increasingly unattractive to high-caliber students.

A simple solution to this issue is to adopt a system similar to that used at Queen’s University, where students are able to access a “snapshot” of their current enrolment in their secure eServices account and print it off themselves (visit this link for reference). From this example it is clear that not every administrative snag requires the financial onus to be placed on the students. Instead, a cursory examination of the current system’s efficiency reveals a better way that both eases the administrative burden and serves students effectively. Since such a simple solution is obvious and has been successfully employed at other Canadian institutions, I am requesting an immediate response to my concerns from whichever party is most qualified.

Though charging $15 to confirm a student’s enrolment may seem minimal to administrators who make a livable (or beyond livable) salary, for those of us who struggle daily on less than minimum wage to create knowledge and dedicate ourselves to actively improving UNB’s reputation by attending conferences and publishing our work, it is a deeply disrespectful slap in the face (especially coupled with the recently approved tuition hike). I caution UNB’s administration not to forget that without graduate students, this institution’s extensive research program (and the associated “world-class” reputation of which UNB is so proud) would crumble.

I will be graduating from an MSc Biology at convocation this fall (having defended in early May) and I want to feel proud that my CV will include a degree from this institution. However, given the increasing lack of concern that the UNB administration has shown its graduate students during my four-year tenure, I am not convinced I will ever be able to feel anything but triumph at overcoming the obstacles UNB’s administration has placed in my way.

I sincerely appreciate the time you have taken to consider my concerns and look forward to your (or your supervisor’s) prompt response.

Regards,

Michelle Lavery

I have since waited a full week. The Chair of the Biology Department and the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) have responded with sympathy and concern, however I have yet to receive a response from any member of the UNB administration. This is despicable treatment of a chronically underappreciated group of students who actively contribute to and ensure the university’s success.

If you are a current graduate student, I highly suggest contacting the administration with your concerns and offering your support to the GSA as they work to remedy this issue. If you are no longer a graduate student (or never were one to begin with), feel free to lend your support by emailing the UNB administration a link to this open letter. If you’re not sure why graduate students matter or what we do, I recommend reading this, this, and this to get you started.


UPDATE (6PM, June 6, 2017): I have received a response from Dr. Drew Rendall, Dean of Graduate Studies at UNB. His email response is confidential, however I can disclose that he spent the majority of the email discussing topics that I did not raise in my original email, like late registration fees. Also, he has made some unclear statements about what the $15 letter charge will actually apply to. I have responded requesting detailed clarification. The University Secretariat, President HEA Campbell, GSA, and the Biology Chair have been copied into our correspondence.

That being said, feel free to email Drew Rendall to request your own clarification on these issues!

UPDATE (2PM, June 7, 2017): Dr. Drew Rendall has requested a telephone conversation and I have accepted. Also, the GSA has an appointment to speak with SGS on Monday about an online system (similar to what I mentioned in the above letter) that is apparently in development for UNB students.

UPDATE (10:30AM, June 9, 2017): Via telephone, Dr. Drew Rendall (Dean of Graduate Studies, UNB) has confirmed that (at least) letters for the following purposes will not be subject to the $15 processing fee: Confirmation of Admission to your program, Confirmation of Enrolment for visa and banking purposes, and Letters of Invitation to graduation ceremonies. Despite Dr. Rendall’s resistance to clarify this explicitly to the graduate student population via email, he did repeatedly commit to this on the phone. If you require clarification about whether the letter you need will be exempt from the charge, I recommend emailing Dr. Rendall.

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Mount Carleton and the Kedgwick River

Wilderness Essays, John Muir

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Writing: 5/5
Research: I suspect he went on a lot of hikes…
Scale: 4/5
Inspiration A BILLION /5

For those of you who aren’t familiar, John Muir was a Scottish naturalist who fought for the preservation of wilderness in the United States. He was particularly fond of the Yosemite and the Rocky Mountains of the western states. He co-founded the long-running Sierra Club (which now has multiple regional branches full of committed and passionate naturalists), and performed vital geographical, geological, and botanical surveys of various wild places. He also fought to preserve the Yosemite in many ways – the most interesting of which may have been his back-country expedition in the deep mountains with President Theodore Roosevelt, alone. Furthermore, he was a prolific and poetic writer, publishing over 300 articles and 12 books. Some call him the “patron saint of the American wilderness” – I call him my newest hero.

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Muir and Roosevelt at Yosemite, courtesy of the National Park Service

The warm air throbs and wavers, and makes itself felt as a life-giving, energizing ocean embracing all the earth. Filled with ozone, our pulses bound, and we are warmed and quickened into sympathy with everything, taken back into the heart of nature, whence we came. (The Alaska Trip)

I had been wanting to read some of his work for quite a while, so I picked up this volume of collected essays a few days after committing to this whole reading endeavour back in July. While it’s a bit of a departure from the strictly non-fiction, activism-science wave I had been riding (but not as much of a departure as The Creative Habit), it was a welcome breath of inspiration. Essays included are: The Discovery of Glacier Bay, The Alaska Trip, Twenty Hill Hollow, The Snow, A Near View of the High Sierra, Among the Animals of the Yosemite, The Yellowstone National Park, A Great Storm in Utah, Wild Wool, and The Forests of Oregon and Their Inhabitants.

‘Poetic’ doesn’t come close to describing his writing – his use of language borders on the divine. Each word seems simultaneously perfectly chosen yet unexpected. I found myself slowing down to savour the vocabulary, treating each sentence like a sip of fine wine. I now find myself writing sentences like that one – clearly either his style is rubbing off on me or I’m trying way too hard to emulate my new idol (three guesses as to which it probably is…). In all seriousness, his writing style is something I can only aspire to. He brings his reader with him on his journeys physically, emotionally, and intellectually.

Instead of vanishing as suddenly as it had appeared, it spread and spread until the whole range down to the level of the glaciers was filled with the celestial fire. In color it was at first a vivid crimson, with a thick, furred appearance, as fine as the alpenglow, yet indescribably rich and deep – not in the least like a garment of a mere external flush or bloom through which one might expect to see the rocks and snow, but every mountain apparently glowing from the heart like molten metal fresh from a furnace. Beneath the frosty shadows of the fjord we stood hushed and awe-stricken, gazing at the holy vision; and had we seen the heavens open and God made manifest, our attention could not have been more tremendously strained. When the highest peak began to burn, it did not seem to be steeped in sunshine, however glorious, but rather as if it had been thrust into the body of the sun itself. Then the supernal fire slowly descending, with a sharp line of demarcation separating it from the cold, shaded region beneath, peak after peak, with their spires and ridges and cascading glaciers, caught the heavenly glow. (Discovery of Glacier Bay)

This book is ideal for anyone who has lapsed into a state of what I like to call “de-nature-ation”. If you feel disconnected from nature in any way – whether it be dissatisfaction with your ecological research (gee, I wonder where that example came from…) or a general sadness and longing for trees – this book can bring you back to the wonder of the wilderness. It has pushed me out of my front door with my snowshoes on more than one occasion and inspired me to start planning my summer camping adventures, even though it’s only February.

Muir has also – unbeknownst to him – soothed the mental chafing I get from reading apocalyptic climate change and habitat destruction literature for my thesis, by bringing me back to the beauty of nature and re-invigorating my will to fight for it. If you’re suffering from “global warming burnout” (or any other kind of burnout), I’d recommend a soothing afternoon picnic in whatever piece of wilderness you can find, and a copy of this gem. You won’t regret it.

Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grass and gentians of glacier meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of Nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as the sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. (The Yellowstone National Park)

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Muir at Washington Column, courtesy of Yosemite National Park