What began with town hall with University of Alberta president David Turpin ended with protestors following him to his office where students pounded at his door for an hour.
A town hall with Turpin occurred from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. today at the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy, where he discussed the university’s financial situation following the unveiling of the provincial budget last week. The question and answer portion of the forum was originally planned to be 10 minutes long but things soon became rowdy when protesters in the audience began shouting at Turpin and demanded that he answer their questions.
During the event, members of the audience held up posters protesting some of the fee increases and budget cuts passed at the university’s Board of Governors on March 16. People began interrupting Turpin’s presentation around 20 minutes in when someone shouted “when are you going to let us talk?” The question was followed by cheering and clapping from the audience.
Once the event was opened to questions, students’ councillor Nicole Jones, speaking as a student, asked Turpin to justify increasing fees for students before making cuts to administration and his own salary.
“I still have to put myself in unsafe situations to make ends meet,” she said. “And this contributed to me being sexually assaulted… students are suffering and will you not re-examine the decision by the Board of Governors?”
Turpin began his answer by acknowledging the challenges Jones has faced, and the size of his $824,000 salary.
“I just want you to know from a very personal point of view, I’m well compensated,” he said. “It provides privilege and opportunities and I want to acknowledge that. But fundamentally this job also has huge responsibility, and it’s a responsibility I take incredibly seriously.”
Turpin then said he has to speak for future generations who will have to deal with the U of A’s deficit. An audience member responded by shouting “We are the future.”
Another question came from Elizabeth Johannson, president of the Non-Academic Staff Association, who asked if the university will put a hold on layoffs given that the university is receiving more money than they expected from the provincial government. Turpin said he cannot give a guarantee that will happen.
Towards the end of the event, Students’ Union president Marina Banister mentioned that a joint statement written by the Students’ Union, the Graduate Students’ Association, the Association of Academic Staff at the University of Alberta, the Non-Academic Staff Association, and the Post-Doctoral Fellows Association had just been released, asking for the four per cent cut to be re-examined. Banister said such a joint statement is “unprecedented,” and that the Board of Governors should meet again.
Turpin replied by justifying the board’s decision.
“The easiest thing I could’ve done was to just go ‘Board? Let’s just keep spending the way we have been. We’ll just ignore that structural deficit like we’ve done for a long long time,’” he said. “Everyone would’ve been happy but I have to look out for the long term financial state of this institution. We can’t keep spending more money than we have, pure and simple.”
President Turpin chased to his office.
Following the town hall at 1 p.m., a large number of protestors followed Turpin from the event as he walked back to his office in the South Academic Building. Once he got to his office, protestors were greeted by two peace officers standing guard outside his door, but students lined the hallway shouting chants like “Not public good,” and “Turpin, serpent.”
The protest continued until around 2 p.m. as students knocked on Turpin’s door. Others began taping posters outside the hall and on the portraits of past U of A presidents. At one point, executives from the Students’ Union began giving water bottles to protesters who had been chanting. Once the two peace officers left, students began pressing the doorbell to get Turpin to come out of his office.
At one point, Banister met with protesters in the hallway and said it’s important that students keep protesting the Board of Governors’ decision once the day is over.
After 2 p.m., protesters said Turpin had managed to leave the building in a police car.
This article was updated on March 28 at 4:04 p.m.