McMaster Divest Hunger Strike Letter

McMaster Divest Hunger Strike Letter

David Farrar, President & Vice-Chancellor,

McMaster University, 

Jane Allen, Chair, 

Board of Governors, McMaster University, 

Michael Ferencich, Chair, Investment Pool Committee, 

Board of Governors, McMaster University, 

March 27, 2023

McMaster Students Act on Evidence the University Ignores

The courageous students who are entering the second week of a hunger strike at McMaster University are calling for the university to make evidence-based decisions, the type which McMaster researchers in health policy and other fields have helped to make the global gold standard. The University Board of Governors and administrators have ignored and downplayed these considerations. The students are seeking commitments from the University to quickly exit from its fossil fuel investments, and to stop its installation of natural gas fired generators to produce electricity, given the clear evidence that each adds to global warming and that both compromise society-wide and environmental health.

McMaster researchers are world leaders in the development of evidence-based medical and health policy decision-making, and they have shown this makes medical and societal health practices more effective, safer, more efficient, and more widely available. McMaster’s administrators often and rightly highlight these achievements in their student recruitment and fund-raising campaigns. But they do not practice what they celebrate, damaging the university’s reputation.

Decade-long discussions with student and faculty groups on the divestment of university funds from investments linked to the production and use of fossil fuels have repeatedly been followed by slow incremental declines as well as by increased fossil fuel investments when energy prices rise. The decision last year to install fossil fuel burning generators to produce electricity to meet peak demands was made without a comprehensive public review of alternatives. These decisions adversely affect the health of our campus, city, and society. 

The university is taking the easiest path to increasing its incomes, without making the significant adverse health consequences it is creating a determinant in its decisions. There are energy saving measures other than natural gas fueled generators that offer ways of reducing university peak energy demand and that also make the university eligible for substantial Ontario electricity cost savings. Fossil fuel divestments have been completed much more quickly by numerous other universities, with larger and smaller budgets than McMaster. There are alternative ways of meeting McMaster’s financial goals. 

McMaster’s continuing defence of decisions that damage our individual, family and societal health is irresponsible, including by its own standards. McMaster should heed the students’ call by re-considering its decisions. 

Indeed, McMaster should extend and apply evidence-based decision making not only to its own operations, but by promoting these practices and standards more generally. For example, by demonstrating how all decisions that effect health or climate change should and can incorporate evidence-based knowledge of the health consequences. 

This is a part of the vision the students who are on the hunger strike offer to the university and to all of us. 


Paul Dekar

Harvey Feit

Atif Kubursi

Graeme MacQueen

Don McLean

Gary Purdy

Rama Singh

Don Wells

The signees are an honorary degree recipient, faculty member, emeritus faculty, and former faculty of McMaster University.


Mac Divest,

Simranjeet Singh, President, McMaster Students Union (MSU), 

Caroline Seiler, President McMaster Graduate Student Association, 

Katherine Cuff, President, McMaster University Faculty Association (MUFA),

Susan Birnie, President, McMaster University Retirees Association (MURA), 

Susan Tighe, Provost and Vice President, Academic, 

Steven Moore, Treasurer,

Saher Fazilat, Vice-President (Operations and Finance),  

Karen Mossman, Vice-President (Research),      

Debbie Martin, Acting Vice-President (University Advancement), 

Paul O’Byrne, Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences and Vice-President,

Maureen MacDonald, Dean, Faculty of Science, 

Heather Sheardown, Acting Dean, Faculty of Engineering, 

Jeremiah Hurley, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, 

Pamela Swett, Dean, Faculty of Humanities, 

Khaled Hassanein, Dean, DeGroote School of Business, 


Steve Hranilovic, Dean of Graduate Studies and Vice-Provost,  

Beth Couchman, President, UNIFOR local 5555, 

Jim Quinn, Professor, McMaster,  

Gary Warner, Professor Emeritus, McMaster, Warner, Gary  


The Spec,,

The Globe and Mail, 

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TV Ontario,  



The Narwal,       

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If you would like further information relevant to this letter, please contact Don Wells at 

GSA Annual General Meeting

GSA Annual General Meeting

The GSA Annual General Meeting will be next week on Wednesday, March 29th from 3-4PM hybrid on Zoom and our GSA Office (see map below). If you want to join on Zoom, please register here. If you are interested in coming in-person to our GSA office, please register here for pizza and include any dietary restrictions. Please note, in-person registration is limited so sign up soon!

GSA Graduate Funding Letter

GSA Graduate Funding Letter

Dear McMaster Graduate Student Community:

As your GSA, our top priority is to advocate for the needs of graduate students on and off campus. With this in mind, we would like to address the current economic fragility of many graduate students at McMaster.  

Graduate students have been particularly impacted by the effects of high inflation and the ongoing costof-living crisis in Hamilton. According to the UTILE housing report published in August 2022 on Canadian student housing, student median rent is 25% higher than the median rent of the general population and 68% of student renters in the Greater Toronto Area have debt related to education. Further, graduate stipends in combination with TA and RA in lieu work vary widely between those receiving tri-agency funding and those receiving a minimum of $13,500 after tuition is paid; where Masters students do not have a minimum funding floor. According to the Ontario Living Wage Network, a living wage in Hamilton equates to $34,671 per year. We acknowledge that graduate funding sources are complex, coming through a combination of TA and RA in lieu work, research grants, and other internal and external funding. However, receiving only minimum graduate funding after tuition is paid means that students often need to find additional work or rely on family to remain financially stable, which can affect student research quality, take away productive time from their academic and research contributions, and put some at risk of additional delays. We believe that this needs to be addressed to ensure that all graduate students can succeed in completing their studies in a timely manner while continuing to make impactful academic and research contributions that secure McMaster’s reputation as a top university world-renowned for innovation and discovery, without driving them to neglect their physical and mental wellbeing due to stress.  

In February 2023, the Graduate Council members voted on the initiation of a task force to review sources and distribution of graduate funding across our university, with the aim of developing a recommendation report for the Provost and Graduate Council by the end of 2023. As researchers, we understand that evidence-based solutions are important. However, graduate students need solutions now. Graduate students cannot afford to wait; many wrestle with financial hardship and no additional data is needed to know that the minimum stipend of $13,500 is simply unliveable. Refusing to sufficiently increase the funding floor undermines McMaster University’s strategic plan and primary objective of Inclusive Excellence, as only those with sufficient financial means and family support will be able to afford a graduate-level education. It also means that talented prospective students will choose other institutions with more competitive funding packages. Finally, many students with insufficient funding take on additional part-time work to afford the cost of living. This reduces the time and energy they can focus on producing high-quality research. This also puts them at risk of being delayed in their studies and becoming overtime, when they lose their guaranteed funding. Without committing to unilaterally raising the floor of graduate funding, McMaster cannot uphold its objective of Inclusive Excellence, it becomes less competitive at attracting new talent, and it reduces students’ time on research. We call on McMaster University to not just create a task force, but to commit to increase graduate student funding overall.  

As your GSA, we continue to advocate for improved financial security for graduate students at

McMaster University. Therefore, we continue to campaign for Raising the Floor, to increase the minimum floor of $13,500 available on top of tuition for Ph.D. students at McMaster University and propose a minimum floor be also instated for thesis-based Masters students. We promote higher graduate student funding at Graduate Council and with university administrators. These issues are not limited to our local community, therefore we engage in collaborations and collegial discussion between graduate students and advocates across Canada, through conferences and advocacy groups including ThinkGrad.   

Therefore, when extraordinary circumstances beyond our control arise that negatively impact student progress, it is the shared duty of not just student advocacy organizations such as the GSA, CUPE3906 and faculty associations, but the entire university administration and community to work together to support students. Graduate students are critical contributors to original research and require substantial funding increases to ensure they can focus on and excel in their research endeavors.   

We call on McMaster University to listen to graduate student concerns by:  

  • Raising the Floor for graduate funding to $34,671 annually, including Masters thesis students
  • Provide overtime funding and tuition relief for Masters thesis and PhD students
  • Increase job security for overtime TAs and RAs in lieu

What can I do as a student?  

Make sure you voice your concerns regarding the lack of sufficient graduate funding by:  

  • Signing the Raise the Floor open letter and circulating it to other students in your department
  • Emailing this letter to and engaging with your Supervisors, Program Directors,

Department Heads and Faculty Deans 

  • Participating in university governing bodies (i.e., Senate and Graduate Council)

Your GSA is always here to support you. Contact us by email at or visit our office during our office hours for specific concerns (1280 Main St W, Refectory Rathskeller Building East Tower 2nd floor, Hamilton, ON L8S 4L7). 

GSA Election Result 2023

GSA Election Result 2023

Results – GSA Election 2023

Start: 2023-03-14 10:00:00 America/New_York

End: 2023-03-16 18:00:00 America/New_York

Turnout: 362 (6.7%) of 5363 electors voted in this ballot.

GSA President

Option Votes

Letizia Dondi 181 (70.4%)

No Confidence 76 (29.6%)


Total 362

Abstain 105 (29.0%)

Certified Results Page 2 of 3

GSA Vice President Service

Option Votes

Kelley Prendergast 121 (47.3%)

Xiajing Chu 89 (34.8%)

No Confidence 46 (18.0%)


Total 362

Abstain 106 (29.3%)

GSA Vice President Internal

Option Votes

Kusum Bhatta 89 (32.0%)

Nancy Kansal 88 (31.7%)

So Yeon Lee 54 (19.4%)

No Confidence 47 (16.9%)


Total 362

Abstain 84 (23.2%)

GSA Vice President External

Option Votes

Ana Portillo 138 (49.5%)

Jing Zheng 111 (39.8%)

No Confidence 30 (10.8%)


Total 362

Abstain 83 (22.9%)

FRC Social Science


Option Votes

Forough Passyar 26 (83.9%)

No Confidence 5 (16.1%)


Total 43

Abstain 12 (27.9%)

Certified Results Page 3 of 3

FRC Humanities

Restricted to HUMANITIES

Option Votes

Zahra Tootonsb 22 (95.7%)

No Confidence 1 (4.3%)


Total 26

Abstain 3 (11.5%)