Ontario students, take a stand

Reporter: Bobby Perritt

A spirit of protest goes viral amongst college and university goers in Quebec, emphasizing the quiet voices of Ontario students.
Quebec students have been holding various day-long strikes for several months, in opposition to a tuition increase over the course of the next five years.
It would bring the average rate of universities and private colleges in Quebec from $2,168 to $3,793.
Public colleges remain tuition free zones.
In contrast, Ontario students pay the most for post-secondary education in Canada – an average annual cost of $3,300 in college and $7,100 in university, both including tuition and ancillary fees.
Colossal fees have the potential to establish a type of class system where the wealthier continue to reap the benefits of post-secondary education and the low-income population is sometimes stuck on the shoreline, terrified to swim in the vastness of overwhelming debt.
Yet Don Lovisa, president of Durham College, made $270,000 last year and president Jon Davies of Humber College in Toronto earned $403,000.
Ontario’s top paid university president Mamdouh Shoukri of York University made $480,000 in 2010.
In two and a half years, Shoukri makes the same as a Cash For Life winner.
Over in Quebec, Heather Munroe-Blum principal of McGill University (which is the equivalent to a president) is the highest paid university principal in Quebec, reaping $356,000 a year.
Clearly, though salaries are lower in Quebec, they are not in a different ballpark from those in Ontario.
Staff salaries aren’t as strongly reflected in Quebec tuition rates, because higher taxes cover the costs, and some courses are not as developed (therefore less expensive) in Quebec as they are in Ontario.
But with Quebec’s struggle to support post-secondary education and the subsequent massive tuition hikes, it may be a signal to pull university and college administrators closer toward the middle class.
On Nov. 10, 200,000 students in Quebec took to the streets or blockaded their school to preserve the province’s 17-year-old provincial tuition freeze. Even the faculty at some campuses refused to cross the student picket lines.
And while Quebecers screamed for financial accessibility, students in Ontario accepted their suffocating debt, and went on with their academic routines.
Attitudes are more tolerant and civil disobedience is small and seldom in the land with the highest tuition rates in the country.
A popular reason for not taking part in challenging the government is that people say they feel powerless in taking action as individuals.
There is nothing on earth much more fragile than a snowflake. But when stuck together, just look at their power.
They cave in roofs, shut down cities and wreak havoc on humans and nature.
Amy LaRue, president of the Student Association does not find student protests appealing.
She said that the Student Association would not stand behind any student strike or walkout for any reason, because they take attention away from education.
It’s true, but in Quebec they seem to feel that striking for the benefit of future students is as productive as receiving an education.
There is no denying that running colleges and universities along with their SA services, is an expensive task for the government and individual schools.
But paying school presidents and politicians a quarter of a million to over three quarters of a million dollars a year, creating expensive buildings and paying so many college and university staff across the province over $100,000 a year jacks up education costs for aspiring students, harming the middle and lower classes.
Students in Ontario are not able to organize as in Quebec.
Quebecers are given academic immunity during a student strike.
This means that professors have to give extensions on tests and assignments to students who choose not to show up to class while a legitimate strike is on.
That type of student empowerment doesn’t exist in most provinces. But it doesn’t leave our voices muffled either.
There are different ways to pressure schools and governments into lightening our financial burdens.
Taking a page from the Occupy movement’s handbook, Queen’s Park in front of the provincial legislature in Toronto could act as a public forum and possibly campground for dedicated activists.
If radicalism isn’t Ontario’s style, then that’s the way it is.
Heavily utilizing Your Student Association or the lobby group Colleges Student Alliance (CSA) could create change – perhaps slower – but with less interruption to students’ academics.
But if an unjust system is continually tolerated, the government, and especially the Ministry of Colleges, Education and Training is going to forget that they work for the people.