Editorial: Parting shots

By Chris Beauchamp

Most writers strive for a certain ideal whenever they sit down to pen something for a mass audience. It should be poignant, relevant and peppered with a smattering of humour. It should open people’s eyes, or at least make them nod their head in agreement.

Ironically, these ideals can sometimes coalesce into a crippling wall of inertia, a blockade of unrealized potential. Sometimes these words come hard-especially when it’s your last crack at the bat, so to speak.

Although my profundity jar is running on empty, my pedantic vocabulary is going strong. Even if I can’t quite get this old ball all the way out of the park, I’m going to at least make for one last line drive.

It’s been four years for me at the U of C and almost the same amount of time at the Gauntlet. In that time, I’ve done my share of complaining about the way this university is run, I’ve passed judgment on the performances of more Students’

Union executive members and candidates than I ever cared to, and I’ve had a chance to investigate stories on all sorts of topics.

It’s been educational, to say the least.

It’s also been stressful beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. But mostly it’s taught me that things are never as simple as they seem. Motivations aren’t black and white, but their consequences can be.

For instance, nobody in the

U of C administration building is actually motivated by malice.

Shocking, I know.

Their plans aren’t designed to derail the undergraduate experience, but sometimes they have. When massive budget cuts were proposed three years ago, it seemed the U of C was about to take an irreparable nose-dive at the end of an already long and gradual decline due to government underfunding. But then Klein saw the light, and it seemed the province might start taking the necessary steps to repair the damage their cuts had caused, or at least to abandon their decade-long stint at the controls of the wrecking ball. Base operating budgets have increased; there is reason to hope, but also much to be done.

Current developments on this campus revolve around $1.5 billion in capital projects that will see four new landmark buildings for the

U of C. Unfortunately, as is often the case when plans are fueled by a boom, there is a big chance that when the bust comes, the impact will be that much worse.

Before these current plans were dreamt up, the U of C’s biggest period of growth occurred in a relatively short period in the late ’60s and early ’70s. In a whirlwind

of progress, new buildings popped up in response to increasing demand for space and an idealistic belief in the future.

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, not only did government funding fail to keep up with maintenance costs, but operating costs as well. Witness deteriorating

infrastructure all over campus, from the preposterously leaky Earth Sciences roof to an Info Commons that’s sinking into the ground.

The same period saw deterioration in the quality of education directly related to the dwindling resources available. Although this may finally be getting addressed through quality-money initiatives, class-size reduction and the like, it’s not enough yet.

The administration is getting a new reputation for caring about the student experience, and it’s deserved, to a point. The Take Your Place project, the wireless campus, excellent library resources, SU quality money-these are all tangible positives for students, but they’re also akin to painting over a hole in the wall.

Yes, growth is important, and yes, new buildings are likely necessary, but it’s ridiculous to launch headlong into massive capital expansion without seriously addressing some of the longstanding issues with deferred maintenance and teaching quality.

For those paying attention, nothing I’m saying is new, but there is something to be said for repeating it. The administration has listened. They have made attempts, sometimes cursory, to address a lot of the issues found in Gauntlet tirades of the past. The SU has voiced a lot of concern over this new age of progress too. That’s good, but it’s not enough from them either.

The Students’ Union was founded-like all unions-on a desire to protect and serve its members. Unfortunately the bottom line has distorted this ideal, much like a piece of writing gone wrong. The SU boasts one of the largest operating budgets of any in the country. It currently has some of the lowest student fees, yet charges exorbitant prices for the services students need the most.

Food in the Den/Black Lounge is comparable in price to almost any pub in the city. Prices in the student-run Stör are comparable to the local 7-11, including $2 coffee that can’t cost the SU more than a handful of change per cup.

Yes, we have some of the lowest direct fees in the country, but we also pay high prices for everything from lunch to concert tickets.

The Graduate Students’ Association provides an interesting juxtaposition. Did you know you can get an entree in the grad lounge for $6? A similar meal at the Den is closer to $10. Perhaps the SU should consider two-tiered pricing, with one price for students and another for townies.

Not all student unions operate on the profit motive. They may charge higher fees, but they offer cheap services, or-gasp!-services at cost. The SU does a lot of good work, but students should be thinking critically about what this organization really does for them on a daily basis.

Both administration and the SU claim to champion students’ interests. Sometimes they even do. But their motivations are never black and white, even if the results can be.

I’ve been privileged to have a soapbox to grumble about issues like these, and I hope the grumbling continues. It can actually be effective, even if you don’t always bat a thousand.

Chris Beauchamp


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