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Dawson students divided by protest movement

by Archives November 20, 2007

Division is rife within the anglophone student movement as protests and counter-protests were held at Dawson College following a three-day strike mandated by the Dawson Student Union (DSU) last week.
To show their opposition to the Liberal Government’s decision to increase tuition by $50 a semester for five years, students advocating for the strike set up their picket line in front of the College around 6:45 a.m. on Wednesday.
Their picket line blocked the main entrance as they carried banners and chanted slogans opposing the tuition increase and advocating free education.
Protest leader Adam Lackman, a member of the DSU, said the current tuition increase will impair the accessibility to studies for students from low-income families.
“The tuition increase further lengthens the barrier for enabling universal education. If someone grows up in a family that doesn’t have a lot of money, he or she won’t be able to afford to pay for education. At the rate they are hiking up fees, tuition costs will soon mean the difference between students eating pasta or meat,” said Lackman.
Fehr Marouf, member of Common Front, the grassroots student organization that pushed for the strike vote at the DSU General Assembly, used the protest has an opportunity to criticize the provincial government on the issues of tuition and tax cuts.
“Free education already works in many countries perfectly well. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work here since the government has the money for it. The tax that was given over the summer came from money obtained through a federal transfer that was meant for social services. Our government squandered it away on a tax cut that did not benefit the majority of people”, said Marouf.
The ideology of free education did not sit well across the street as roughly 25 students staged a counter protest. They chanted slogans and carried banners opposing the strike vote – encouraging their fellow students to go back to class.
Romney Copeman, the leader of the counter-protest thinks supporters of free education should have done their homework before coming out to protest.
“I absolutely don’t agree with the concept of free education. I think that protesters should be advocating better programs for those who need free education rather than for everybody,” he said.
“There are those such as myself who are capable of putting themselves through cegep or university with the help of a parent or a job so I don’t think I deserve the right to go to university and have other people pay for it”, said Copeman.
To the strike organizers’ dismay, Wednesday’s blockade remained symbolic as students and professors bypassed the picket line unperturbed to get to class.
“It is really depressing to see that there isn’t solidarity. Even if people don’t agree, we voted for it, we have to stand united, that’s the only way we can defeat the increases in tuition”, said Marouf.
As a result, turnout on that first day of strike was rather poor. At mid-day, only about 30 students were protesting in front of the main entrance. This is partly due to the fact that the strike vote came as an outright surprise to a majority of students. Only 400 out of 7400 students had voted in favor of strike during Tuesday’s General Assembly, in spite of the fact that a strike vote wasn’t even on the original DSU agenda.
Copeman insisted that even though there were more students protesting for free education, his counter-protest was representative of the mood of a vast number of Dawson students towards tuition and strike.
“There could be more people on my side but most of the people who would be on my side are intelligently still in class. They’re not leaving class because this is an illegal protest.”
Many other students, such as Kendra MacGregor, an International Business alumni, thinks the strike vote was just a crafty way to get out of class.
“A lot of the people who voted for the strike were only wanting the five day weekend,” she said.
The differing points of view lead to heated debates on campus as the two protests went on. Responding to one student who thought he was demanding the impossible, Marouf said free education was part of a negotiation tactic that could have far-reaching implications.
“We’re putting forward a social vision, an ideal, so that we can get them to reduce the fees. By putting out there a social debate, we’re simply bargaining with the government. So by putting something that is really out there, you get half of what you ask for”, said Fehr Marouf.
Arielle Grenier, who started the debate with Marouf, responded that a lack of funding in the education system may very well cause significant deficiencies in the education system.
“Look at what we’re gonna get if we don’t even raise tuition fees. Take a look at [Université du Quebec a Montreal], they’re not hiring any other teachers for another twelve years and they’re even increasing the number of students per class”, said Grenier.
A contingent of Dawson College students joined the march organized by ASSe last Thurday, during which Marouf addressed 1500 marchers next to the Norman Bethune Square at Concordia University.

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