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Tuition Talk

I walked out of Concordia University Thursday evening into a war zone. Leaving the Hall building on de Maisonneuve and Mackay, students were met with the sight of protesters heading towards the John Molson School of Business. The sound of sirens complicated by the noise of police helicopters overhead jarred many, causing them to stop in their tracks. Looking down the street, one could see a traffic disaster that would only get worse as time went on.

The timing of this strike was not by chance. Students clearly decided that mobilizing during rush hour would wreak the most havoc. Their strategy was certainly successful, as traffic dragged to a stop and hundreds of motorists sat and watched. In late February, the same tactic had been employed, when students blocked access to the Jacque Cartier Bridge. On that cold day, riot police marched in and they were removed.

But while students demand respect for their limited financial means, they exude disrespect for the two million, nine hundred and seventy thousand Montrealers who do not participate. I take issue with these strike tactics. The motorists stuck in their cars no longer have sympathy for a student strike.

Many of the older generation are sympathetic to the fight against tuition increases, but they won’t remain so if the joie de vivre of native Montrealers is repeatedly disturbed. Striking beyond the borders of the University demands attention, a wanted feature of any protest. Yet, peaceful demonstration, actively targeting those they oppose, might be more useful.

Targeting Quebec government buildings, and blocking access for their employees would have an immediate impact on the province’s ability to function. I’m sure the government will take notice  if its own employees are barred from going to work. This targeted strike would send a clear message that students are not simply trying to disrupt the city, but trying to pressure the government to change their actions.

Perhaps most problematic is that fighting tuition increases does not target the root of the problem; instead, students should be fighting for education reform in Quebec. Activists will gain much more support from the general population if they fight for widespread change. Demanding accountability from the Quebec government is a first step to fixing the problem. Students should demand transparency with regards to how their money is being spent. We certainly know where our money came from, but where does it go? Annual budgets should be made public, displaying how funds are allocated and spent both by the government of Quebec and each university. We would then know how our tuition fees are applied and how the government spends their education budget.
Is there possible room for improvement in the system? By experience I (optimistically) know that’s always the case. Why don’t we fight for transparency in the education system as a first step towards improvement?

Transparency is not only valuable at the provincial level, but at our university level as well. The strike vote conducted by the Concordia Student Union (CSU) was held separate from each respective department’s General Assembly, and was passed by a very small percentage of students. Rather than holding a vote over a period of several days, The CSU vote was held during the day in rooms that were unable to accomodate significant amounts of people, so many were unable to attend. While some claim that this is democracy at its best, I find the claims erroneous: holding up slips of paper in public and having them counted by students to determine a vote of such importance is absurd.

As I walked past the students protesting loudly to the decidedly shackled audience of Montreal commuters, I realized no amount of money – either more or less – will fix this problem. We pay for an education; we find this to be poorly given; and in our own institution of student government we do not use this education properly.

–  James Vaccaro

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