Student and faculty groups at the University of Saskatchewan are stepping up their opposition to TransformUS in the wake of the latest round of tuition hikes on March 17.
TransformUS is the U of S program prioritization process meant to combat a projected $44.5 million deficit for the 2015–16 fiscal year. Academic programs and support services are selected to be kept as are, to receive increased or reduced funding, to be reorganized or to be cut.
“The program cuts are reducing the academic offerings available to students and cutting the programs they want to take. At the same time, they are having to pay more and more,” said Franz Kuhlmann, a professor in the department of math and a vocal critic of TransformUS.
A group consisting of both students and faculty — including Kuhlmann — called Transform This sprung up in early March 2014 to voice their concerns about TransformUS. The group was meant to serve as a means to organize and direct opposition to program prioritization on campus.
“For the past few months, we’ve been organizing students on campus, reaching out to a number of departments and it has basically culminated in us creating a working group to respond to TransformUS,” said Nicholas Marlatte, one of the group’s leaders who is running in this year’s U of S Students’ Union elections.
Transform This has worked with several other organizations on campus, including the Socialist Students’ Association and Student Teachers Against Racism Society, to host events to educate students about TransformUS. Marlatte said the first event — “An Alternate Vision for the U of S” — is where they saw a need to organize opposition to program prioritization.
“We saw so many students that were vocal but felt isolated and ineffective in dealing with the problems themselves,” Marlatte said. “Myself and other people used it as an opportunity to organize those students and stay connected.”
Kuhlmann said his opposition to TransformUS stems from the disconnect between the university administrators and the faculty and students.
“All this money is taken away because we’re told we’re in a crisis, but it has not been made clear where the debt comes from,” Kuhlmann said. “The debt comes from the pet projects of our administrators that do not serve the mission of our university and do not serve the interests of students.”
Transform This has also been circulating a pair of open letters to the campus community. The first is written by Kuhlmann and addresses some faculty concerns over the TransformUS process, while the second focuses on students’ worries. Over the past months, the group has been collecting signatures in support of these letters and plans to deliver them to U of S President Ilene Busch-Vishniac in the near future.
“The first letter was basically meant to be a faculty response to the perceived issues of TransformUS . . . We as students latched onto this idea and also recognized that we needed a student voice in this as well,” Marlatte said. “So we were lucky enough to team up with Kuhlmann and write another letter which we think will be more salient to students.”
The group held a “SaveUs” bake sale on March 27 to raise money for the programs threatened by TransformUS. Marlatte said that the idea may seem novel but it’s as much about raising money as it is about creating awareness.
“It’s a bake sale where students can demonstrate that they want to be involved in TransformUS because we’ve been cut out of the decision making process and we feel the consultations haven’t been adequate,” Marlatte said.
The idea for the bake sale came about as a relatable way of engaging students in the TransformUS process.
“We wanted something that people would be receptive to and we felt that a bake sale is something people are naturally interested in,” Marlatte said. “So it will be an effective means of reaching out and educating students about TransformUS.”
The group plans to present all funds raised by the bake sale to Busch-Vishniac at a time that has yet to be determined.
People interested in becoming involved with Transform This can find more information on their Facebook page. The group’s open letters can be signed in person or online at freeacademiausask.blogspot.ca.
Graphic: Samantha Braun/Production Manager