By: Chris Burke
Anger is brewing over a recent decision by the administration at the University of Waterloo to raise tuition fees in the middle of the Summer term. Students have expressed frustration over the decision to raise the fees as there was little consultation with the students prior to the decision. Further, the increase comes at a time when the Ontario government is moving to put a cap on tuition increases at 3%, down from the original 5%. The timing of the increase comes off as a cash grab. An effort to increase tuition before the 3% cap comes into effect.
The administration has responded pointing out that an e-mail back at the start of the term indicating this increase would occur was sent. Reactions to this have been mixed as some students I’ve talked to say they recall the e-mails while others have no recollection. I can’t say I remember the e-mail though I don’t always read everything UW sends me. Students will gloss over those e-mails before deleting them, a fact the administration should’ve considered. Increasing the fees the way they did, the administration has argued, was necessary due to the way the budgeting process works and the uncertainty that surrounded the Ontario 2013 budget.
Whether the increase is the result of devious-intent, or necessitated by procedure is unlikely to stop a planned protest against the hike from going forward. A sizeable group, backed by UW’s Federation of Students (FEDs), is planning a demonstration.
I’m sceptical that this protest will accomplish its intended goal. For starters, I’m not exactly sure what the goal is. The intent appears to be a demand for UW to reverse the tuition increase, or at the very least, ensure students’ access to courses and online services isn’t cut if they don’t pay the tuition this summer. If the protest is focused around that, I feel it’s unlikely to do much more than what’s already been done. FEDs has already voted to oppose the actions of the administration and appears to be working on the side of the students. The protest itself also suffers from being more of a “public meeting” than a demonstration. When your protest has the approval of campus police and the administration, you probably aren’t doing much to upset the balance of power. This doesn’t mean protesters should take action that could get them banned from campus, or arrested. Generally, that’s not a good strategy. However, police-approved protest comes off more as a way for people to go out, march, shout-slogans, and return home feeling like they made a difference.
However, there are a few within the protest movement that want to see this turn into an action against the high price of tuition in Ontario. Any student currently sitting in debt because they wanted an education can likely appreciate the need for some level of action against high tuition. Unfortunately, this is a protest that, so far, appears to be restricted to UW. From what I can tell, no serious effort has been made to reach out to students at other universities to create a province-wide movement. I find it hard to picture a province-wide movement resisting tuition increases and demanding lower tuition or free-education. Given how many in Ontario had little interest in the Quebec student strikes, or spoke in contempt of Quebec students, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll march onto the streets to demand free or affordable education.
I’ll end this post off with some thoughts on FEDs, as their involvement has me concerned. I can’t say I’m a fan of FEDs. The organisation comes off as the place where meaningful resistance goes to die. Yes, they are opposed to the hike, but would they support any action that looks to go beyond resisting this particular hike? If a grassroots movement of students formed, and tried to link up with students at other universities, would FEDs allow it to flourish or would they try to co-opt the movement into a structure that can, at best, push for moderate reforms? FEDs has never come off as an organisation willing to take any radical actions. They aren’t going to sanction any actions that aren’t 100% peaceful, campus police approved, or challenge the power structure that keeps FEDs at the top.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’d like this protest to succeed. To see it be the start of something big. The catalyst for a province-wide movement against tuition. Unfortunately, the disorganized message, the nature of the planned demonstration, FEDs involvement, and attitudes in Ontario are keeping me from getting my hopes up.
Note: These opinions are mine and mine alone. I’m not directly involved in the planning of the protest. I won’t even be attending due to other plans. I do not claim to speak for anyone involved in the protest.