President’s message – Jan. 12, 2012
Last week was an eventful one for the University of Regina Students’ Union We launched a campaign to ban bottled water on campus, gave away free breakfast as part of Frost Week, and got hundreds of pledges of support signed by students for the Day of Action on Feb. 1. It is the last of those three things that I would like to talk about a little more, and how the University of Regina has voted to not support students on Feb. 1.
On Feb. 1, students at the University of Regina and the First Nations University will be going All Out to demand better post-secondary education. We will be gathering together outside the First Nations University for a short rally, then we’ll head inside for an exciting schedule of speakers and events. One of the speakers that we are flying in for the Day of Action is Patrick Smoke. Smoke is the Chairperson of the National Aboriginal Caucus of the Canadian Federation of Students, and currently lives in Northern Ontario. One of the reasons we are so excited to have Patrick speak is because our Day of Action will be about pressuring the federal government to remove the two-per-cent cap on the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP). The PSSSP is the program by which the federal government provides funding to First Nations communities for their post-secondary students, to help fulfill the treaty right to education. Since 1996, there has been a two-per-cent funding cap on the program, which means fewer and fewer eligible student can attend post-secondary institutions. Last year alone, over 10,000 First Nations and Inuit people were denied an education because of the cap – 1,000 of which are from Saskatchewan.
It is with this history that I submitted a motion to the University of Regina Board of Governors that, if passed, would mean the University of Regina officially supports students as we lobby for the cap to be removed. The board of governors – of which I am a member, as are President Timmons and Chancellor Ready – did a most disappointing thing by defeating the motion. Can you imagine? A university that is supposedly focusing on improving First Nations and Aboriginal education voted against a motion that would have benefitted First Nations and Aboriginal people immensely. One thousand First Nations people in this province were denied post-secondary funding last year, yet the University of Regina does not support students as we lobby for real change.
Now, to be fair, the university does have several programs and initiatives that benefit First Nations and Aboriginal students here on campus. But the change we’re talking about – removing the funding cap altogether – is a systemic change that would equal a fundamental shift in this country educationally, economically, and socially. The truly baffling thing about the board’s decision is that President Timmons has stated in the past that she and the university think the cap should be removed. This fact leaves me to conclude that the university simply does not want to partner with students or work in co-operation because they are afraid of our activism. In essence, they are playing politics with the future of First Nations and Aboriginal education and it is disgusting.