'Let us speak': Students boo University of Alberta president at forum on fee increases

Hundreds of students booed University of Alberta president David Turpin over student fee increases Wednesday, chanting "Cut your salary" after a student forum.

'Who are you accountable to?' students ask David Turpin

Students protest student fee increases at a University of Alberta president's forum on Wednesday. (CBC News)

Students protesting fee increases booed University of Alberta president David Turpin Wednesday during his annual winter forum.

Since the university's budget came out March 16, students have been protesting on campus.

Hundreds of students lined up before Wednesday's event.

Organizers opened an overflow room to accommodate students who couldn't fit into the primary lecture hall at the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy on the university's main campus.

For the first half of the presentation, Turpin went through a series of computer slides showing the university's financial pressures, and areas the university has been spending on student programs.

But halfway through, students appeared to lose patience, interrupting the talk with chants of "Let us speak."

University of Alberta students voice concerns against changes made by president David Turpin. 0:55

"I thought his attitude was sarcastic, it was dismissive," said student Baiyinah Syed. "You don't listen to students, you don't listen to our representatives … so who are you accountable to besides the board of governors, who [are] paid? "

After the hour-long forum, Turpin walked by a crowd of students who booed and chanted, "Not public good."

Turpin was smiling and appeared to try to shake hands with a chanting student, who waved him away.

The group followed Turpin to his office in another building, eventually chanting, "Cut your salary" outside of his office door.

Students have been protesting the board's approval of fee hikes in three areas. International students will have to pay 3.14 percent more for tuition, students living in residence will pay four per cent more for rent, and meal plans will go up by 15.8 per cent.

"Lots of international students also live in residence. If you're a student that's affected by all three cost increases, you could be paying up to $1,500 more next year alone," said students' union president Marina Banister.

University of Alberta students' union president Marina Banister wants the board of governors to reverse recent student fee hikes. (Tanara McLean/CBC)

Turpin said the international student fee increase was "only by inflation."

"There are strongly held views on both sides and I think it's a tribute to the board that they wrestled with all of these questions," he said of the increases.

Banister wants the board to reconsider the increases after new money was announced for the university in the spring provincial budget. The province increased the school's base grant by two per cent, and the university will get a portion of a $17-million backfill payment from the province.

The university has previously said the fee increases were needed because it wasn't expecting any new money in the provincial budget.

"Given the facts have changed, the entire campus community has now come together and is requesting that the board of governors meets to make a new decision based upon the facts," Banister said.

Turpin said the university will review a budget letter to the university from the government and then see "what options are available."

Turpin's compensation and salary came under fire from Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt last week after the student fee increases were announced. Financial reports for 2016-17 show Turpin's total compensation was $824,000.

"I share the student's frustration with some of the decisions that are being proposed here," said Schmidt.

"We've been requesting more information from the university for quite some time, and we continue to make requests for further financial information."

Turpin said the province and Schmidt knew the fee increases and cuts were coming in the university's budget before it was announced.

Schmidt told CBC that while they had an "inkling" of what was coming in the university's budget, he didn't know about the increase to resident rents and international student tuition.

About the Author

Tanara McLean is a producer and journalist at CBC Edmonton. She grew up in Red Deer and has spent her entire career in Alberta, working in print, radio and television.