So far this year, Concordia students have mobilized and protested against the hike in international fees, the government lifting of the 2012 tuition freeze and, most recently, the signing of a beverage contract with PepsiCo. Despite this student action, local organization Free Education Montreal believes students need to be more calculated in their dealings with university officials if they are to have their concerns addressed.
“Students might have to be strategic, it is very easy for the university to go over our heads,” said Holly Nazar, member of FEM and one of the presenters at “Pepsico & Beyond: Presentations and discussion on owning our campus,” a conference held last Thursday.
Nazar, alongside with Erik Chevrier and Robert Sonin, spoke to a handful of people at the Graduate Students’ Association house about how students need to understand that they have certain rights in the university.
They said that students do have a right to have more power in the way the university is controlled and administered. This means having the ability to ask how their tuition is being spent and to demand clearer transparency on contracts, the group said, adding that protesting, posting fliers and filming in university buildings are all student rights.
The university seems to be willing to accept certain forms of demonstrations, Chevrier said, but he added that it helps if students choose their battles and look at the bigger goal before going out to protest.
In addition to addressing student rights, the presenters also targeted the problems they feel exist on the university’s end. The general consensus among the group was that the university needs to adjust its policies on what students have a right to access.
“It’s not that they don’t give the info,” Chevrier said, “it’s just so vague.”
Sonin said that it is hard to decipher the university’s financial documents because the school does not go into the specific details of how money is being spent on students. Chevrier also asserted that Concordia is very secretive about their contract deals. He continued by saying that the university is too reliant on corporate contracts and that Concordia needs to slowly wean itself away from these influences and become self-reliant.
The discussion also veered beyond Concordia, with Sonin saying that board members and the Quebec government need to look at education as a social good rather than a money maker. “They have a very commercial attitude,” he said. The more education people receive, he added, the better the society, the better the economy and the better the services the population receives.
Ultimately, the discussion came down to the student body, and the overall message of the conference seemed to be that students should get informed about their rights since, as Sonin put it, “We are a player here. We actually have a say.”