Stop the cuts to graduate mental health services!

Evan JohnstonNews

Dear CUPE 3906 members,

On March 31, graduate students voted overwhelmingly to reject the administration’s proposed supplementary fee protocol, which was presented and debated at the Graduate Student Association’s Annual General Meeting (AGM).

The proposed protocol — lobbied for on behalf of the administration by the Associate Vice-President and Dean of Students, Sean Van Koughnett — was advertised as providing improvements to mental health, personal counseling, and career services, but would have resulted in a significant increase in the ancillary fees paid by graduate students each term.

During the AGM, individual members of the CUPE 3906 Executive Committee spoke out against the proposal, and raised concerns about the administration downloading the costs associated with these services onto the backs of students.

As a result of voting down this proposal, graduate students are now being threatened with service cuts, and we fear that these cuts are putting lives at risk.

Forward with integrity and compassion

The majority of graduate students value and support the expansion of these services, but are frustrated by the limited number of choices that have been presented thus far: either pay up, or prepare for cutbacks.

We believe that this approach only serves to polarize the conversation on terms that systematically disadvantage students from poor and low-income families, students enrolled in graduate programs with lower levels of guaranteed funding, international students who pay higher tuition, and those in most immediate need of mental health support. The outcome of such an approach is squarely at odds with McMaster’s new Student Mental Health and Well-Being Strategy, which speaks of a commitment to building “a culture of caring,” and fostering “a healthy, supportive and inclusive educational environment.” If McMaster truly wants to be a leader in “mental health and research expertise,” it needs to do better.

As many of you know first hand, post-secondary education is already unaffordable. Ontario graduate students pay the highest tuition fees in Canada, and are saddled with increasingly unsustainable levels of debt. This is particularly true for international graduate students, who regularly face steep tuition hikes due to a lack of provincial regulation, as well as additional fees not required of domestic students.

Sadly, McMaster’s Board of Governors has shown no interest in making the lives of students more affordable, voting each year to increase tuition fees to the highest allowable amount. As tuition fees and debt levels continue to rise, graduate students are forced to work more part-time jobs during their studies, acquiring more stress and anxiety as a result. These facts need to be part of every conversation that we are having about mental health services, academic success, and the future of our educational environment.

We agree with Sean Van Koughnett when he says that “without these support services, it makes your academic success much more difficult. In some cases, for some students, it’s absolutely critical that they have access to these services. They wouldn’t be here without them.”

That is why the CUPE 3906 Executive Committee is calling on the McMaster University administration to:

  • Immediately stop and reverse the planned cuts to mental health, personal counseling, and career services for graduate students; and
  • Allocate new funds in the upcoming 2015/16 operating budget to reflect a principled commitment to the mental health and wellness of students and workers at McMaster.

If you agree with us, please consider supporting our campaign by:

  1. Signing our petition — 
  2. Liking our campaign Facebook page — 
  3. Sending an email to Patrick Deane ( and Sean Van Koughnett (, letting them know how you feel about the cuts to our services
  4. Attending our next General Membership Meeting on May 13 at Noon, where we will be discussing this issue further (more information will be posted soon at

In Solidarity,

Evan Johnston
President, CUPE 3906

On behalf of the CUPE 3906 Executive Committee