enjoying the foliage

Student Movements at U of T

Posted on: Monday, March 31, 2008

I’ve been pretty busy recently with activity in Ottawa so I haven’t been able to post all that often. However:

I heard that recently there was an occupation of the presidents office at New College at U of T to protest a hike in residence fees. My understanding of this is that New College fucked up and is charging the students for this. This is all well and good, except that tuition fees are already astronomically high as it is and not everyone is rich and middle class. All the criticisms of this protest I’ve ever heard are that the protesters were immature and shouting and being in the office of the president are bad things and because of this, the police were justified in removing them. This creates quite the double standard because if a bunch of police officers were in my house because I was committing some kind of scam and I forcibly removed them I would soon be unconscious on the floor. In fact, the only reason why an authority would ever get upset over the means used to protest it is if these means have a chance of changing things. Pacifism is fine as a representation of values contrary to what those in power hold (wars, globaliation, etc.) but the chances of it accomplishing anything are pretty slim. There’s obviously a couple example of it working, but there are countless many more of it failing. Shouting in the office of the president is not even violent unless you consider the noise impacting people ears to be violence. People suggest that these students should have created some kind of petition and be all polite about it so it would have been that much easier for Mr. President to crumple it up and throw it in the trash. What exactly do these universities need so much money for anyways? Is it for them to get rid of all the tenured professors and replace them with over-worked sessional instructors? I know Carleton does this, so they clearly do not need to money to improve education. Far more likely, the money is used to give contracts to companies like Aramark and Coca-Cola at the expense of the students. Aramark, a major food-service provider on campuses and prisons across the continent is being watched like a hawk by Human Rights Watch and other organizations. I can’t speak for U of T, but Carleton gave those guys a 10 year exclusivity contract that says nobody is allowed to compete. And when I say nobody, I mean NOBODY. Want to have a bake sale? That’s competition. What to have a movie night on campus with your own food that you give to others in attendance? That’s competition. I volunteer with a vegan pay-what-you-can soup kitchen on campus and we have to prepare our food off campus and drive it over every day because cooking on campus would compete with this company. Coke sucks for obvious reasons too. The situation seems to me to be this:

-universities give lots of money to large companies to dominate campus at the expense of student-run clubs and organiations

-universities take money away from hiring professors and allowing them to do a quality job at the expense of students

-universities hike up student fees to pay their buddy companies at the expense of students

-students lambast those who speak up about this for being too radical and, God forbid, shout about it

-international students who come to study in Canada can only really work on campus and for minimum wage and can’t exactly afford to pay for this bullshit like many privileged people can

Who else sees a problem with this? Why is the money being allocated to making the universities richer and the students and education poorer? Education is a universal human right and why are universities favouring money over rights? I was talking to some other Carleton students about this and they said that we need to occupy the president’s office here. The methods of these U of T students are constantly attacked on the grounds that it was disruptive and so on and so on, but isn’t that what actually causes change? The reason the president reacted in such as way was because he felt the pressure, but fortunately he had is loyal students to resort to name calling and attack the protesters on childish groups (They’re stupid!). I personally don’t think these students did anything wrong, and if anything, they should have been more drastic.  How else is anything going to get done?

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5 Responses to "Student Movements at U of T"

Brian, I agree with you on pretty much everything you said in this post about the importance of being able to hold student occupations and whatnot. Universities do some fairly heinous things, and UofT is no exception. However, having seen the protest myself and also having read fairly widely about the events of the day, I feel kind of uncomfortable about what happened for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it seems like while the goal of the protest was to fight the fee hike, it sort of degraded into a “lets protest everything we are angry about” kind of event. There is mention of the students at the protest yelling about about giving solidarity to the struggle in Palestine, for example. A bunch of very angry students with no clear purpose creates an unconstructive, scary atmosphere. Also, while it’s totally fine to express anger at the President, its not okay to appear threatening to employees of the university who happen to work in the same building and who do not have anything to do with making administrative decisions. And finally, I guess I can’t really properly argue this, but from what I saw of the protest as I was walking by, the whole thing just seemed kind of hysterical. I think protests are successful when there is anger with a strong purpose, and in this case I didn’t sense that at all.

Now I’m going to take a nap. Also, when are you coming home in May so I can plan my birthday party? : )

If the UofT protesters did anything wrong, it was not making their message clear, concise and cohesive enough. The fact President Naylor is able to say in his written rebuttal that “they continued to chant and shout loudly about a range of issues other than the New College residence fees” is suggestive of this, and I’ve seen other similar comments. It’s obviously possible for the Pres and the supporters of his standpoint, as well as any other party, to slant their description of the events in favour of their respective agendas. I wasn’t there, so I can’t really speak with any certainty to the directedness of the protest.

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly support the student demonstrators and agree with you. Getting David Naylor out of what Chris Berube of the Strand calls “his hermetically sealed office” is a feat indeed. Not enough credit is given to the racket makers among us, who at UofT are admittedly few. I’m not sure where global women’s rights and queer rights (to the extent that they exist today), among a zillion other things we now take for granted, would be without them.

Haha, I wrote that before I read Pratima’s comment.

p.s I agree with everything Katie said!

We would be the best protesters ever. I’ll bring cookies!

I have to admit that I don’t know of much real student activism or protest that goes on at Queen’s. It may be because our school is made up of largely complacent people, but it is more likely the case that I’m not very involved with student life at Queen’s. I go to class, I follow my profs to their cars talking about baking bread, I go to philosophy talks, and occasionally, I buy fair trade coffee. This is bad in the sense that I never engage with the real issues on campus – I’m sure that there are many, but people are generally tiresome and tend not to carry out things well that would work in theory (like the unfocused shouting wherein the message was diluted at UofT).
However, I do agree with everyone in what they’ve said about the fact that we should have the right to make a non-violent ruckus about where the university is spending money. It is our institution after all. We pay to learn, to have our lives enriched, and for the acknowledgement of all of this on a piece of paper at the end. I’m not very familiar with the financial operations of a university, but it seems to be the case more and more that universities are money-generating institutions with interests in mind other than their students. Brian mentioned that teaching quality suffers at Carleton as a result. It’s not so bad here at Queen’s – the philosophy department is most excellently staffed with many bright and caring individuals, but everyone’s feeling the tightening of purse strings in terms of course availability. Queen’s doesn’t offer a great variety of courses to begin with because we’re a small school, but it’s just worsened by the fact that money is being siphoned off for other purposes. Yes, we’re getting a new student centre in like 2015, but that project has been riddled with so many financial problems already that I have little faith in the university to spend money properly with the projects that it does choose to fund much less spend money with students as its priority.
In other words, I should stop being such a lazy, passive bum about things.

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