In late 2011 and early 2012, student unrest in Quebec grew from individual frustration at proposed exponential tuition increases to a cohesive movement with a clear goal: to stop the Liberal government’s planned tuition increases. Hundreds of thousands of students filled the streets of Montreal for months, strikes shut down most Quebec schools and the Parti Québécois won the September provincial election, partly with the help of the student movement.
There will still be some form of tuition increase in Quebec, and the more radical students’ desire for free post-secondary education remains unrealized. Yet the extreme increases proposed by the now-toppled Liberal Party have been dropped.
What this should show students here at the University of Saskatchewan is that with an uncompromising dedication to seeing our demands realized we can, in fact, steer the fate of our school. Students have been denied involvement in the process euphemistically known as “TransformUS.” Clearly, the university’s administration is uninterested in hearing students’ thoughts on the upcoming budget cuts.
There is a widespread but entirely misguided assumption on campus that the university must make drastic cuts right now, so it is our duty as students to accept what administrators decide. After all, don’t they know better?
No. They don’t.
To be more accurate, I should say that it is possible they do know better than us what needs to be done and how to achieve it. But that doesn’t mean students can’t register discontent, make demands and, above all, make this process of “transformation” and “prioritization” as uncomfortable as possible for the administrators who so blithely decided to exclude us from the important decisions that will impact us as much as any other group on campus.
I may sound bitter. This is because I am. The U of S is the only university I ever wanted to attend, and it’s the only school I applied to. My father and uncle both taught here, in sociology and psychology, respectively.
As a child my highest aspiration was to attend this school. And now, finally here and paying thousands of dollars each year for the honour, I constantly receive the message that I don’t matter as much as students in more marketable programs. It’s hardly surprising that I would be upset. In fact, it’s a feeling most people in the arts and sciences should have.
We don’t need to nurse these frustrations alone. There is no reason for us to accept the changes being unilaterally imposed on our school as if we are no more part of the university community than the stairs in Place Riel.
Even though top U of S administrators want us to think otherwise, we have voices and, even more importantly, we have a collective voice. Speak loudly enough, and we would be all but impossible for the administration to ignore.
As students we are also in a unique position in relation to the budgetary and staff cuts that will be taking place. The lecturers, administrative assistants and other staff who are at risk of losing their livelihoods are understandably scared of raising the ire of their superiors. We don’t need to fear job cuts in the same way. No matter how loudly we express our dissatisfaction, we won’t be expelled or suspended (unless we do so violently, which is another matter).
We can take up not only our own cause but the cause of the people who work for us on campus and now have no way to fight for themselves.
I doubt this cry for protest will create a student movement where none has existed in recent years. Saskatchewan is worlds away from Quebec, where protest culture has a much more vibrant history.
But this is not student politics as usual, to quote a professor of mine. This budgetary situation and the resulting spending cuts will affect both the U of S and post-secondary education in Saskatchewan for years to come. And students have been wilfully excluded from the process.
We need to make it clear that “TransformUS” is not okay and that we are not going to sit by quietly while our degrees and our time are devalued, de-prioritized and “transformed” into something we no longer recognize. We don’t need to accept what university administrators tell us about this process, and indeed we should not.
The first step to fighting the administation’s attempts to unilaterally remake this university is to reject their spin on this issue. Rather than accepting the term “TransformUS” and allowing ourselves to forget how much damage it encapsulates, we need to call this process what it is: a dangerous program of austerity.
Illustration: Jenna Mann/The Sheaf