Tuition issue sparks campus debate
Tuition fees were a hot topic on campus in recent weeks – with a lunch-time forum, a U of S Faculty Association-sponsored panel discussion, a planned one-day national student boycott of classes, and a tuition-freeze rally in the Bowl.
Jan. 23, at the second of two Bag Lunch Forums entitled “U of S Ltd. – W(h)ither the Corporate University?”, co-organizer and Education Prof. Howard Woodhouse told the 60-person audience the U of S’s standing in the annual Maclean’s ranking of universities has become more important to the University than what students have to pay for their education.
Citing the June, 2001 Canadian Association of University Teachers Bulletin, in which U of S President Peter MacKinnon is quoted as saying, “Having students pay a greater share of the cost is the best way to sustain – or even advance – the reputation of the university,” Woodhouse said it “begs the question of what is meant by the reputation of the University.”
MacKinnon said later he was taken aback by the CAUT Bulletin article, and maintains the quote was taken out of context.
“I have never drawn a one-to-one correlation between tuition and reputation,” he said. “Certainly, it’s important to the reputation of the University of Saskatchewan for this institution to have the resources it needs to do its work, and tuition is a part of that.”
But at the Lunch Forum, Woodhouse said since the Maclean’s survey uses reputation for 20 per cent of an institution’s ranking, the U of S tuition hike had a direct impact on its “leap upward” in this year’s Maclean’s result. “Why are we so beholden to that third-rate publication?”
Woodhouse said MacKinnon’s statement in the CAUT publication also “promoted the idea of students as customers.”
“Faculty and staff have to ensure the central education task (of the University) does not disappear in the face of the onslaught of the market model.”
Also speaking at the noon meeting, co-organizer and Education Prof. Michael Collins reiterated concerns about alleged “corporate” motives driving the U of S agenda and its focus on research, particularly regarding the synchrotron.
Collins said the University’s adoption of a corporate ideology and its “top-down planning framework leaves little or no room for debate” on future directions.
He called for a renewal of the vision of a people’s university, adding that he and Woodhouse hope to use their forums to promote an alternative discourse “to the narrow-gauge management monologue.”
At a two-hour panel discussion Jan. 28 on “Gouging the Customer? Perspectives on Tuition Fees,” sponsored by the Faculty Association, representatives of faculty, the U of S Students’ Union (USSU) and the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) gave views on rising tuition to an audience of 36 students and faculty.
English Prof. Len Findlay said fees are rising but the “excellence” they’re being offered is just a focus on research. He said students are being asked to, “Pay lots more than elsewhere in the country, and expect your professors to be as elusive as Osama bin Laden.”
He said “we can and must compete with the University of Toronto and its ilk, but on our terms and for our interests, not for elite interests.”
USSU President Janelle Hutchinson said while tuition has risen 100 per cent in 10 years, it’s difficult to see academic improvements. She says the USSU believes tuition shouldn’t rise more than the annual cost-of-living increase, and scholarships and bursaries must rise, to offset student debt-load.
GSA member Angela Regnier said her experience as a York University student during a TA strike there last year showed that students are viewed as “revenue units” in Ontario – and she wonders if tuition hikes here mean the U of S has the same view.
Anthropology Prof. Sandy Ervin said student:teacher ratios in the 1970s were 12:1, and now are 30:1 or 35:1. He said provincial cabinet knows the University is underfunded, “but instead we get casinos, hog-barns, and northern clear-cutting.”
USFA executive member Tracy Marchant, of Biology, said CAUT is ready to sponsor “teach-ins” at any university on tuition.
A group called Citizens for Accessible Education called on U of S students to support a one-day boycott of classes and a tuition-freeze rally in the Bowl Feb. 6.
An informal check of some staff and classrooms by news media found very few students boycotted classes – but more than 250 did turn out for the 4:00-5:00 p.m. rally in the Bowl. Speakers told of rising tuitions and rising student debt, and called for a freeze.
At the Jan. 23 lunch-time forum, graduate student Rachel Engler-Stringer told the audience that the 15 per cent increase in tuition here this year and a similar hike predicted for next year jeopardizes accessibility to post-secondary education. She had called on students to boycott classes Feb. 6 and on faculty to reschedule exams to allow students to participate.
The boycott and rally coincided with a National Day of Action on this issue organized by the Canadian Federation of Students.
Janelle Hutchinson, president of the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU), said her organization was not asked for its support of the event “but it’s always good to see students out there…taking a stand.”