I am writing to you in light of recent events — the Drop Fees rally in particular. As I was riding the shuttle bus home to Toronto one evening, an ex-student union president, Walied Khogali, made an impromptu announcement regarding the library implementing the new 24/5 schedule and, more importantly, the upcoming Drop Fees rally at Queens Park.
I am all for getting the word out on the librarys new hours—it is an essential service that we as students pay for every year and we should be updated as to its schedule. But the fact that Walied tried to sell students on the Drop Fees rally seemed inappropriate and came across as hypocritical. As I tried to understand why I felt this way, it dawned on me—the student union, regardless of the student vote behind them—remains a governmental arm of UTM, much like the schools administration.
Let me clarify: both UTMSU and the UTM Administration are given a certain amount of funding every year (paid by students and the provincial government) and both decide what to do with it on the basis of student satisfaction. Of course, you can argue that the Administration has more on their mind than only the students (professors, TAs, building management, investments, etc.) but at the end of the day, the sole purpose of both these organizations is to improve the quality of education at the University of Toronto.
That being said, I find it difficult to understand why the UTMSU holds the administration responsible for the high fees students pay. It seems obvious that if we were to pay lower fees, we would lose funding in certain areas that (as the library situation has already proven) we would also be upset about. The issue of mismanagement of the Universitys finances would no doubt lead to stern criticism of any mismanagement of UTMSUs finances (see The cost of education on page 3), which seems just as important.
Another argument made is that the provincial government should invest more in students education. This does sound nice I must admit, but it is also difficult for students to understand the repercussions of this additional funding. Just like the UTMSU and U of T administration, the Government of Ontario has a budget, and any additional spending on education will inevitably lower spending on other important services. Either that or it will increase taxes — which seems okay until you have to pay more income and property tax, and fewer investments are made in Ontario businesses.
Again, the issue of financial mismanagement is summoned — take for example the recent $1 billion eHealth scandal. Why couldnt that money be used towards paying students fees? Simple. Because everything is that easy in hindsight.
This leads me to question the purpose of the Drop Fees march on Queens Park. It seems to me that other than solidifying the solidarity between marching students (a sort of extended frosh week) the march does little in the way of actually affecting the amount we students pay or in changing the University and provinces stance on the subject— all of this coming at a high price . The Canadian Federation of Students successes in other provinces have yet to be replicated in Ontario and it is clear that the current administration is unable (often confused with unwilling) to change their stance on tuition freezes.
Many of you will remember the exact same protest was held last year — same logo, same organization, same fervor—but I have yet to hear of any tangible results that were a direct result of the march. As an average student, I should be made aware not only of the problem of high student fees, but also what my student union or university administration has done and will continue to do to help my cause. It seems unreasonable that a march that has contributed very little to nothing in fighting high fees should be used as an example of progress.
Having the march a second time seems even more unreasonable. It is not as if David Naylor is peering down from his ivory tower for the first time, realizing that all students want to pay less. It is not as if they forgot about our discontent, or decided that we are not worth their while. More likely, its because they are in a situation where they cannot reduce tuition fees regardless of harsh criticism from students.
If the goal of the rally on Queens Park was to make a spectacle then they have certainly succeeded. There has been coverage of the protest through all forms of media, including this newspaper. But if the goal was to have a definite effect on the premiums we students pay, then I feel the efforts put forth were misguided.
Instead, I offer an alternative solution—one shrouded in transparency. It seems that the Government of Ontario and U of T administration do not respond favorably to name calling and slurs shouted at them at student protests. Nor do they appreciate or reply to hate mail and other similar tactics. So why dont we sit down with the administration and discuss the problems at hand—much like what happened with the library debate.
At the very least, if the administration is unwilling to cooperate with the proposed tuition freezes, they will give specific reasons as to why this is the case. We can take these reasons and work on disproving them or finding alternate solutions. But hopefully, we will be able to give the administration ideas on how to keep tuition fees in balance. Yelling is not productive, but showing the administration specifically where, in their yearly budget, we can save money for students, is. In other words, we have to work with the University to make progress.
More importantly, the student body should be made more aware of how our fees are spent and whether or not services provided to them are necessary. Again, to use the example of the library, it is without a doubt that many students would be unwilling to deem any services unnecessary.
To them I say: this is not a one-way street. In order to drop fees we have to sacrifice services that we have become accustomed to. Inevitably this will lower the quality of education and the standing of the University of Toronto. The world isnt fair, but is this really a tradeoff youre willing to make?
(FULL DISCLOSURE: Michael Di Leo is the Arts Editor of The Medium and his opinions do not necessarily reflect those of The Medium or its staff.)