Participants: Alicia Miller and John Loeppky
Alicia Miller – Contributor
The rising cost of tuition is of large concern to Saskatchewan students since year after year each student is forced to pay more and more to a higher education yet very few of us can understand why. Why is the cost going up and where is that money going? More importantly, why is the cost going up when countries like Germany are now offering free post-secondary and Quebec has managed to fight off outrageous tuition hikes for decades?
As a Saskatchewan resident and student who is fully financially independent, I am in full support of the kinds of tactics employed by the students and residents of Quebec to fight tuition hikes. Not only were the large marches and vast protests effective, but the resonated with many as something we should aspire to do ourselves country wide. Why would I support such militant tactics? Well for starters, it was extremely effective, and it won out in the end. I was in Montreal in June of 2012 for the largest protest march against the rising cost of tuition up until that point, and I could feel the energy and momentum of the thousands upon thousands of people marching and chanting up and down the streets on Montreal. To be clear, upon personal observation the protesters themselves were not violent at all, but they were very persistent and very loud and they were definitely heard. And despite the mass amounts of police brutality directed at protesters (which I also witnessed) with absolutely no provocation, they didn’t give up and they kept marching on. I support these tactics because they worked. In the entire history of the world, very few rights have ever been granted without a hearty fight. The right to an education, an affordable education at that, is one we should be given but it is clear that unless we fight for it like they have done elsewhere, we won’t simply be granted it out of the goodness of the government’s heart.
[pullquote]In the entire history of the world, very few rights have ever been granted without a hearty fight.[/pullquote]
The reason we’re so complacent in Saskatchewan is because of 2 things. The first being that we’re simply not a culture of protesters. We’re pretty complacent in what is thrown at us and we may complain, but we inevitably just end up sucking everything up and dealing with it. The second being we have far less of a population than places like Montreal, making large scale protests more difficult to start and maintain. That being said, those in power know these 2 facts and know that we won’t fight that hard to get what we want like the people in Montreal did relentlessly which is why they know they can keep screwing us over.
We need to take up the same tactics as our neighbours because we know they work, and so do those in power. Up until this point in Saskatchewan nothing we have done has had any effect on rising tuition rates because they just keep going up and up and up. If it worked for Montreal, why can’t it work for us? Clearly writing e-mails to Brad Wall isn’t doing a lot of good and neither is complaining to our Student Unions. If we want change we’re going to have to fight for it, and we might as well fight the way that’s already been proven effective; with loud large-scale marches that don’t cease until our demands are met. Until we stop being complacent and learn to congregate en mass and fight in a collective action, we will never get cheaper, more affordable tuition.
John Loeppky – Contributor
In answer to the query as to whether Saskatchewan students should mobilize in a more dramatic way, I can provide a simple, one word, non-violent answer: no.
How can Saskatchewan students, even if we are paying an exorbitant amount for university, take to the streets when we seem incapable of negotiating in the boardroom, or even representing ourselves consistently? Student apathy is at such a high rate that, in the upcoming URSU by-elections, there are ten spots up for grabs. Forget militancy: we should focus on the issues in a diplomatic way first. Maybe it’s a product of our armchair advocacy, the feeling that we need only write a Facebook post or share a fiery tweet to ignite social change; maybe, we just see resistance as futile, like we have no voice; or maybe we are just one lazy group, far more content to be non-participants and complain about the results than to actually do anything. Group protest, while it may be more flash and bang, more explosive, more dramatic, is rarely the most effective tactic when it comes to negotiations.
[pullquote]Forget militancy: we should focus on the issues in a diplomatic way first.[/pullquote]
We should leave the violence to the causes that are worth fighting for. If we were being forced from our classrooms then yes, an uprising might be in order. To suggest that we need to bring out the pitchforks over slowly rising tuition is to devalue the protest as a means of change; to do so without any sense of direction would be to damage the cause even more.
Also forgotten (read: ignored) is that the group we are encouraged to emulate, Quebec’s student population, have the lowest tuition costs of any province in Canada. Now, a fool would say that this should be reason enough for us to continue their fight, to battle alongside them. Surely us Saskatchewanians, the ones paying more than our friends to the east, should protest for the same rights? Well, no. That we, the largely uninformed masses, supported the cause in the first place seems questionable. In order to create progress, we need to recognize not only our strengths, of which pounding pavement is not one, but also what we are fighting for. Our strengths, vested in the fact that we are the plugged in generation, are wasted. Instead, we watch cat videos, criticize those in power, and undercut anybody who attempts to inspire changes by pointed at their ever-present flaws.
In her interview with this very newspaper, U of R President Vianne Timmons outlined a number of the reasons why the amount that students are required to pay each school year continues to rise and none of them would be solved any easier through the use of riot gear. Sadly, as it stands, there is more infighting on campus than there is tangible progress. To gain any ground, the U of R’s community has to come together. This doesn’t mean that we should all transform into URSU candidates, but it does mean that a dialogue needs to be established. First, we need to be able to discuss the issues with each other (note: this does not mean we have to agree). Second, a uniformed message, a company line, so to speak, needs to be presented to the powers that be. A Quebec-style approach would only show the collective student body of Saskatchewan as an uninformed mass, actionable at the whim of a chosen few leaders, not a group worth negotiating with and certainly not one worth affecting change for.
Like most things student-related, the disputes that have arisen from hikes in tuition would be better solved with an increase in student participation, rather than an up-tick in student aggression. Alas, to most, the latter seems so much more appealing.