By Brian Low
Terry White and the Board of Governors have been taking a lot of flak lately, and perhaps it is not undeserved. Tuition rises while many students struggle to go to school and carry on gratuitous habits such as eating and sleeping indoors. All the while, White’s infamy grows in proportion to his salary. Recent demonstrations serve only to underscore the ire with which the student body views him. But while the recent tuition increases are irksome and inconvenient, they are perhaps not really the pernicious moral evils the Students’ Union and its propaganda machine, the Gauntlet, would have you believe, (even given their perpetual objectivity and lack of bias).
It may be fair to say that we hate tuition increases. It may be a worthwhile argument that they are unnecessary and unwanted. But it’s far from a moral issue. In order to make the case that our student rights are being trampled, however, you’ve got to first establish the idea that post-secondary education is a right. It’s a bit of a tough sell.
We should be careful to distinguish between rights and liberties here. A liberty is something you’re allowed to do. It doesn’t imply any corresponding duty for others. The freedom of expression is a good example. No matter how absurd your ideas, you can beak off all you want. Look no further than this column for proof. However, no one has any duty to facilitate the exercise of this liberty. Once again, this column demonstrates my point. Incredible as it may seem, there is no one making the Gauntlet publish my weekly diatribes. I guess it just goes to show how easy it is to exercise some liberties. (To anyone who thinks it would be clever to use lines from this paragraph to rebut my position, save yourself the ink and come up with a few of your own.)
A right, on the other hand, implies a duty. If arrested, you have the right to retain legal counsel. This means you can speak to a lawyer if you want to. If you can’t afford one, the state will make one available to you. There is a duty incumbent upon the state to aid you in your exercise of this right.
So which category does education fall under? Education through high school looks a lot like a right. If you want to go to school, the state pretty much has to ensure that you can. So it’s free. You can show up and learn if you want. It’s the state’s duty to make it possible. Once we get out of high school, however, education looks more and more like a liberty.
If you want to go to university, no one is going to stop you. But no one is obligated to help you, either. The government feels it is expedient to pay some of the cost of a post-secondary education, but there is little in Canadian practice to indicate it is the state’s duty to ensure everyone desiring to attend university is able. We feel justified in imposing certain admission requirements. Academic standing is one. Tuition is another. And that brings us to the crux of the issue.
University attendance is not a right. If it were, tent villages would spring up to protest Grade Point Average requirements and the fact that we have to pay tuition at all. But that’s not the issue, is it? What we’re really talking about here is convenience. We don’t find it convenient to fork over an extra $300 next year. I didn’t find it convenient when Safeway raised the price of Fruit Loops either, but if you want to eat them, you’ve got to pay the price. The same applies to post-secondary education. If you want to go, you’ve got to pay the price.
So the Board of Governors, in collusion with Terry White, has conspired to jack tuition up by $300. It won’t be fun to pay it. I’ll probably find it as discommoding as everyone else-it’s a tax write-off I really didn’t need. But you won’t hear me singing in harmony with the world’s victims and whining about how the "establishment" tramples on my rights. It hasn’t.