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By: Diane Doran
Imagine this. You decide to go to grad school. You save up so you can afford tuition, or maybe take out another loan. You juggle courses, TA work, and your own research. You work hard to meet everyone’s expectations. Sometimes you sacrifice your sleep, or your health, or your relationships. You live on a sub-standard wage. You lock yourself away for weeks to write your thesis; if you don’t submit it by the deadline, you’ll be charged for another semester of tuition. You break down at least twice, but you keep going, and one day, against all odds, that sucker looks just about finished. You prepare for your defense and spend the whole night before thinking about the questions you might be asked rather than sleeping. You pass! Only minor revisions. Almost there. You sign all the paperwork. You go back, you make the edits. You make sure you’ve formatted it just the way the university requires. So close. Now all you need to do is submit it to the School of Graduate Studies, but McMaster University has one last nasty surprise left for you: it’s going to cost you.
In order to graduate, you must submit an electronic copy of your thesis to SGS, and in order to do so you must pay exactly $40. Apparently, the thousands of dollars that I paid in tuition and student fees only cover my education — graduation not included.
No, unfortunately, this is not a Monty Python sketch, this is the perennial farce that is McMaster University administration. The mysterious “library and archiving fee,” of which no description can be found, is the final frontier between you and your degree, and it comes as a shock to most graduate students. It’s like buying an airline ticket, getting on the plane, and then being asked to pay a “descent and landing fee” while you’re cruising at 39,000 feet.
Now just to be clear, I am not kicking up such a gigantic fuss just because I now have 40 fewer dollars in my bank account. On vacation, I once spent $20 on a paper puppet in the shape of Spongebob Squarepants that the vendor convinced me would dance on its own when placed next to a stereo. It did not. And yet I’m not nearly as angry about that.
It’s the principle. If publishing your thesis on MacSphere were optional, you’d hear no complaints from this girl. I chose to pay tuition, because I decided I wanted an education. But I had no choice but to pay this fee, if I wanted anything to show for it.
The ransom on your diploma is set at $40, which most of us could probably begrudgingly afford; but not unlike the profits of criminal extortion, the use to which these funds will be put is not at all transparent. McMaster’s policy is for all theses to be uploaded to MacSphere on their library website, where they are searchable and can be accessed by a wider audience. Which is great, but I am profoundly confused as to what part of that is costing us each $40.
Am I paying for an administrative assistant to open my PDF file and drag and drop it onto the website? Am I paying for a tiny amount of space on a server until the end of time, which has been calculated to amount to exactly $40? Until SGS decides to respond to my recent tweet, we’ll never know. More likely, I’m helping to repay the overhead costs of McMaster deciding to invest in new software or platforms, and so are you, because they know, of course, that you’re not leaving without that diploma.
Now, I’m not a totally unreasonable person. If a gym invests in new equipment and a sauna, they have the right to start charging a bit more for membership. That’s how business works, and McMaster University is a business like any other. I understand that. But even if SGS manages to convince me that the “library and archiving fee” is legitimate, why on earth is the fee not included with tuition and student fees at the beginning of the year? Nobody starts a degree thinking “who knows, I might even graduate!” Why is that not part of the deal?
SGS, I believe I speak for disgruntled grads across this campus when I ask you please, don’t wait to trip us right before the finish line.