Tuition decision dissapoints

By Kris Kotarski

Tuition went up again. Undergraduate U of C students will pay $4,380 for a full course load (a 6.3 per cent increase), not including mandatory fees such as Campus Recreation or the Students’ Union levy (which includes $3.50 per year for the Gauntlet). In all, mandatory fees are now over $4,500 and textbooks push that number even higher.

For students, that alone is sad. What makes the pill even harder to swallow was the farcical manner in which the University of Calgary’s Board of Governors put through the raise. Worse still, they did the same with differential tuition, and enrolling Law, Medicine and MBA students will each have pay over $11,000 per year by 2006.

First, make no mistake: tuition should have gone up. The university is underfunded and money had to come from somewhere. Since the province refuses to fund post secondary education at a sustainable level, President Harvey Weingarten and university administration made the only proposal they could: a maximum tuition increase. Had they not, the university would have had to make further cuts that affect students as well as everyone else.

However, the process was once again insulting. There was no legitimate discussion; there were no alternatives; and for students, there is no end in sight. The Board of Governors came in and rubber-stamped the administration’s proposal in front of hundreds of protesting students. The board members spoke of unity and sending a message to the provincial government. In the end, their message was clear. Much like university administration, the Board of Governors does not care enough about the students at the U of C.

New to this year’s process, the board passed a resolution to lobby the province and inform the Klein government of the dire situation of the university and the students. Minutes later, in front of the greater Calgary media, no one aside from the student representatives had the courage to criticize the province. The students–in this case Students’ Union President Matt Stambaugh and Graduate Students Association President Michelle McCann–were forced to send that message alone.

Sure, the board members lamented the tight fiscal situation at the U of C, but not one board member came out and directly blamed the province. While they had the courage to speak of grave circumstances facing students at the table, they could not bring themselves to tell the people of Alberta whose actions caused those grave circumstances in the first place.

In the end, as a student, I can’t help but feel let down by the Board of Governors. I expected a maximum tuition increase, but I also expected meaningful discussion on tuition and differential tuition. In both cases, I feel as though I got none. And while student pleas to the board on the matter of tuition had little chance of success (it’s hard to argue against a tuition hike when the U of C faces cuts and a deficit), the differential tuition debate was surprisingly insulting.

Matt Stambaugh won that debate. He showed that the university loses nothing if it does not implement differential tuition–in fact, students would have been happy to settle for a eight per cent across-the-board increase instead of 6.3 per cent and massive hikes for three selected faculties. But the board did not care to listen. There was no relevant debate, and the motion was approved simply because the board does not dare vote against administration. Future Law, Medicine and MBA students will have to consider massive costs when making the U of C their choice, and it is easy to argue that cost will be a deterrent to low-income applicants. To quote Stambaugh: “Differential tuition is evil.” From the comments around the boardroom table, one could sense that many agreed with him as well. The fact that they did not vote that way is why students felt the sting on their cheeks.

The whole experience brought on a few revelations. First, if the board is unwilling to discuss or to change its vote, why is tuition in their hands at all? Why not delegate it to the Planning and Finance Committee who may actually look at the issue? Second, why does the board allow students to stand alone year after year? While voting for a zero per cent increase is unrealistic because it further sinks the U of C in its financial quagmire, there are other ways to show support. A motion of condemnation of provincial policy is one option, but something as simple as a public statement to the same effect would go a long way. And third, will anything ever change?

Sadly, students feel the answer to the last one is “no.” And March 21, 2003, the board gave them no reason to feel otherwise.

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