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Editorial: If only universities were on students’ side

by The Concordian January 31, 2012
Editorial: If only universities were on students’ side
It really isn’t the most ridiculous thing in the world to suggest. If only universities were on students’ side in the fight against tuition increases, perhaps this battle would be a little easier. But the letter sent out to students, faculty and staff by Provost David Graham last week, indicating that the university will operate as usual despite a potential strike, only adds further proof that Concordia is not very interested in the plight of its students.

The document explains that students who choose to miss class or refuse to take their exams will be subject to the standard academic consequences. Graham goes on to list possible negative outcomes for students, such as the risk of being de-registered by not paying tuition, losing visa status or health insurance for international students and failing to meet graduation requirements.

The CSU, its president Lex Gill in particular, has denounced the letter as “fear mongering,” with Gill adding that the union felt “blindsided” by the timing of the letter. Emotional reactions over the letter flared up on Twitter, where Graham indicated to Gill that he had only heard about the strike plans through the media, while Gill reiterated that she would have appreciated some kind of discussion with the provost before the letter was sent out.

Regardless of who said what to who, the fact remains that the plans for a potential strike, which will be voted on by the CSU membership on March 7, are now crystal clear to the administration. So instead of whining about not being told in any official capacity about a possible strike, the university should drop the excuse about being in the dark and grant students academic amnesty, even for just one day during the potential strike in late March.

The provost himself even encouraged professors to grant leniency to their students during the massive Nov. 10 protest, when over 30,000 students took to the streets of downtown Montreal demanding that the Charest government retract its plans to increase tuition by $325 a year between 2012 and 2017.

Universities want more money, we all know that. They say they need more cash to improve the quality of teaching, yet fail to admit that they pay through the roof for the salaries of their senior administrators, but that’s a whole other debate. Nevertheless, is there really a reason that universities need to add their voices to the provincial government by claiming that the extra dollars must come from students?

It isn’t such a radical idea to suggest that instead of increasing students’ debt, cash-strapped universities should demand that the provincial government grant them more funding. And while the universities are calling on Charest and his pals to give them some much-needed cash, they should grant students that much-needed academic amnesty, allowing them to strike without the fear of failing a class, or worse, not graduating on time.

It would send such a powerful message to Quebec City if universities, from the staff right up to the top administrators, came to the realization that the millions needed to improve services should not come from students, but from the people who control all the money in the first place: the government. If that were to happen, if universities were to join students in their fight against the provincial government’s tuition hikes, the Charest

Liberals would be in a much tougher position to push the $325 a year increases down students’ throats.
But alas, presidents and principals at Quebec’s universities seem to be content with watching students suffer and fall into massive debt. And now, with this letter from Concordia’s provost, it seems students have lost another potential ally.

But the strike vote is only happening on March 7; there’s still time to reconsider that academic amnesty decision.

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