By Andrew Ross
It all began with dissatisfaction at the direction this university is heading. I don’t care about Maclean’s rankings, I feel the faculty in my department are quite good, I think the U of C will only improve by gradually building itself up and I agree that university education is an investment in one’s future. The smart kids will always get by without financial support from their parents because they will get scholarships and the like to pay for school.
My concern with rising and differential tuition is that the system is more inaccessible to the masses and more accessible to the rich. If you are a person of moderately high intellect– not a genius, but above average– your parents’ finances can influence your higher education. I don’t think everyone needs to go to university, but I do think your inherited financial situation should never be the deciding factor. So either only let the geniuses in, or let all the above average brains through the gates. That’s my take, and my problem. It’s not about right or left wing, it’s about the system being fair.
So I decided to do something about it. I bought a toque, I pitched a tent and I camped out. Did it change the outcome of the tuition decision? No. What it did change was my perspective on the whole debate, and me as a person.
I drive to school and arrive several hours before my 1 p.m. class. My trunk is full of camping gear, my backpack is full of textbooks and I am full of enthusiasm for the week ahead. I meet up with my new-to-camping buddy Kevin, find a spot on the south lawn of Mac Hall and set up. The gravelly, sloping, wet-on-top, frozen-underneath ground delays us, but we set up just in time to drop off my books before going to class.
“The weather is just about perfect,” I think to myself. “Warm, clear and not too windy.”
Back at Tent City, it is apparent that I am living in a ghost town: there is not a soul in sight. I note the tent next-door is now adorned with a banner reading “CPIRG Calgary.” In retrospect, this was quite an ill omen.
The temperature has markedly declined in the short time since sunset and I decide to turn in early. The thermometer on my travel alarm clock reads-4. Nippy, but not too bad. Then, at about 10:30 p.m., a group of students (who I presume to be engineers) sing a song about the days of the week. Thirty times.
Sometime after 3 a.m., the engineers stop singing. However, I can now hear the CPIRG people next door much more clearly as they complain about their parents.
I don’t know when I got to sleep, but at 5 a.m. I woke with a start. I apparently rolled in my sleep and my sleeping bag turned so that the zipper is half-undone and I am laying on my cold cot. I appropriate the sleeping bag Kevin isn’t using and get back to sleep, but, as happens every time I sleep outdoors, I am awakened by birdsong an hour before sunrise. Fucking birds. I try to sleep some more, but my travel alarm clock goes off, and I rush to get dressed before the promised “7:30 a.m. free breakfast.”
At 8 a.m., “7:30 a.m. free breakfast” is served. I pass on the coffee–I am already far too bitter for such an early hour. I go to class with a full stomach and heavy eyelids. My lack of breaks on Tuesdays hits home a little harder than usual this week.
At 6 p.m., I go home for a shower, supper, change of clothes and a nap. My little brother decides to practice his piano whilst I am attempting to nap. Luckily for him, I am far too exhausted to mete out the beating he so richly deserves.
I don’t even remember if the shower happened or not, but Kevin arrives ready to go as I’m making supper for the ingrate who prevented my nap. What I have done to earn such bad karma?
Back at camp, armed with three sleeping bags apiece, we figure out how to best arrange the tent. I put one bag inside another, with the third underneath as insulation. After a ten-minute procedure to get inside the sleeping bag setup without falling off the cot, I am toasty-warm.
The ‘geers have three songs in their repertoire tonight, the CPIRGers are talking (very loudly) about how drunk and/or stoned they are and how badly they need to puke, and a pickup game of rugby has started outside my tent. In spite of all this, I have a much better sleep than the night before. Kevin points out that the whole tent-city exercise seems to have little to do with tuition and much to do with partying. I have to agree.
I am awakened by a bird. Today it is a magpie. After all I’ve done for magpies, sticking up for them when people call them pests and baby-bird murderers, this particular magpie is devoid of all gratitude. A freight train is in the distance. A plane flies overhead. I go back to sleep.
In an act of reckless optimism, I wake up at 7:20 a.m. I am rewarded, as I step out of the tent to see the SU’s Irene Enyedy setting up breakfast.
I go home for a shower and change of clothes, having determined that I did not, in fact, get a shower the night before. I fall unintentionally asleep and end up late for my 1 p.m. lecture.
After class, I find a note Kevin left in the tent, explaining that he will be attending the tuition protest Thursday and BOG meeting Friday, but has decided that the Tent City is not something he wants to be a part of. It is hard not to see his point, the Tent City probably does more harm than good for the student image.
Tonight is Gauntlet election night, when the Editor-in-Chief and News Editor for the next year are elected. I leave my backpack at the Gauntlet office, and join the customary post-electoral festivities at the Den. Two fellow gauntleteers take advantage of my offer to crash in my tent.
My backpack is not at the Gauntlet office. I go to class. I go home. I try to do some stuff around the house, but it’s useless. I fall asleep, and sleep right through the tuition protest. I come back to the tent city to pack up. As I’m rolling up the sleeping bags, I overhear one of the CPIRGers say (and I wish I had made up such a juicy quote, but I am merely reporting the facts), “I have so much angst about the university and about tuition, but it’s totally being ruined by all my angst about Bush and the war.” At this point, I decide Kevin was right.
If I am to have any chance at all of making it to the Board of Governors meeting, I’ll need to get a good night’s sleep, and given the party atmosphere that is already building in Tent City, the only place that’s going to happen is at home.
I slept through the BOG meeting. Tent City has now officially defeated its own purpose for me. I go to class, try (unsuccessfully) to find my backpack, and discover someone has spray-painted “SAIT” on my tent. I don’t have any tools to take my tent pegs out, and the ground is frozen. As I struggle with the pegs, a cold wind picks up. The sun is rapidly receding behind the horizon. As I’m thinking this couldn’t get much worse, I actually see a murder of crows flying overhead. One of them perches in a nearby tree, cawing at me. It doesn’t sound like he’s saying “nevermore,” but he may as well be. I am more cynical, jaded, and bitter than ever before.
Oh yeah, and tuition went up anyway.