SU changes tactics

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With less than one month until the University of Calgary Board of Governors is expected to raise tuition, a visible shift can be seen in how the Students' Union is putting up a fight.

Unlike previous years, with protests, tent cities and other student-focused activities, the SU is opting to focus on the local community and government. SU President Jayna Gilchrist explains this represents a shift in the philosophy surrounding the tuition debate. Last year, the SU hosted a week-long tent city and initiated student protests.

"It was extremely obvious what happened last year didn't work," Gilchrist said, adding the tent city encouraged student spirit, but was ineffective. "The protest last year focused more on the [university] administration. The reality is provincial funding continues to drop and drop, and administration is placed in a tough situation."

Instead of student involvement, the SU has three activities planned between now and the Fri., Dec. 5 BoG meeting. On Mon., Nov. 17, the BoG will be invited to a question and answer period with students, with presentations from both the SU and the Graduate Students' Association. The week of the tuition decision, CBC will focus its "Learn at Lunch" series on tuition. Finally the SU will meet with the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

The latter two fit the SU's plan of lobbying community and government, while the meeting will show the impact on students.

"There's a perception with student politicians in general it's facts [that are important], and the board doesn't get to see [students] one on one," Gilchrist explained. "Statistics can only go so far. But when you see the exhaustion, the frustration, I think that has more impact than numbers."

However, some fellow student politicians feel the SU is not doing enough, or is wrong in not involving students. When questioned at the Tue., Nov. 5 Students' Legislative Council meeting, some SU commissioners agreed with the strategy, but a number stated they did not think the SU was doing enough.

"I think we haven't given students or public any irresistible reason to care about tuition this year," said SU Events Commissioner Jennifer Smith. "The executive could have done more."

Other members of council said they themselves were not yet aware of SU tuition plans.

"I still don't know what's going on, and I haven't been able to get a full answer," lamented SU Academic Commissioner Beth Counsell.

Many SU initiatives, like a return of last year's "tuition hut" opening Nov. 17, won't begin until mid-November, less than three weeks before BoG meets.

SU VP Academic Demetrios Nicolaides defended the timing. He said the tuition decision isn't the SU's only focus throughout the year, and any change, especially government funding, will occur over a greater length of time.

SU VP External Lauren Batiuk also defended their strategy, pointing to attention garnered by the new provincial Post Secondary Learning Act, Bill 43, earlier this summer, and lobbying government officials is a higher priority.

"There has been a month of networking, left, right and centre," Batiuk said in the SLC meeting, pointing to their Trick or Treat campaign, where students canvassed communities for food bank donations, while discussing Bill 43 and tuition.