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Budget picket draws huge crowd at U of C

By Gayathri Peringod, November 22 2019 —

An estimated 1,000 people took to the quad outside MacHall at the University of Calgary yesterday afternoon to participate in a picket protesting budget cuts and tuition hikes. The picket was organized by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).

“This is one of many rallies and information pickets that have been held by AUPE members across the province over the last few months,” stated Guy Smith, President of AUPE. “It’s workers and students standing together against cuts, not just at the U of C but for post-secondary education across the province.”

The United Conservative Party (UCP) released their 2019–20 budget on Oct. 24, detailing plans for funding for provincial programs and services. The University of Calgary, in particular, is facing an immediate $32.9 million cut to its $479 million operating grant with more cuts expected to occur in the next three years. Tuition at the university is also allowed to go up by seven per cent each year for the next three years. 

The budget release prompted backlash from the U of C campus community, with the Students’ Union vocalizing their dissent and student-run campus organizations organizing protests to express their concerns about the tuition hikes and cuts to programs and services. In response to backlash over post-secondary institutions’ budget cuts, the UCP government have stood their ground, with Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides defending the decision.

The AUPE held a picket at noon to vocalize their concerns and mobilize those worried about the impact that the budget cuts can have on campus life. Among those present were campus organizations such as Students for Direct Action, a club on campus aimed at mobilizing students for political action.

“We’re coming out to show solidarity with AUPE because we’re on the same page when it comes to fighting the tuition increases and preserving much-needed public jobs,” said Mateusz Salmassi, an organizer for SDA.

“Students are furious and hurt, for the most part. They are scared about whether they’ll be able to continue their education. They’re deeply troubled, and they feel like their futures are in jeopardy,” Salmassi continued.

“I think that there has to be a strong principle of solidarity among all students, otherwise none of us will win. So, domestic students need to be in solidarity with international students, because international students have no cap on their tuition,” Salmassi continued.

Many professors and teaching assistants were also present at the picket.

“What the government is doing, I think is really despicable,” said Mark Konnert, a professor in the history department of the Faculty of Arts. “They’re still working out the details, but it will [impact staff] because classes will be bigger. You know, we’ll have fewer staff around. It’s going to be more work for everyone.”

Some said the Students’ Union isn’t doing enough to advocate on behalf of students regarding budget cuts.

“I really hope that we can work with them to push them to do more,” said Salmassi. “[SU president] Jessica Revington has given us the impression that they want us to pressure them.

“I think that if the Students’ Union is too afraid to take action now, what might end up happening is there will be no resistance to what I believe the Students’ Union is most afraid of, which is the institution of voluntary Students’ Union fees.”

However, Salmassi thinks its’ a preventable scenario through student mobilization.

“I think if we organize effectively early on, we can prevent that from happening. But I don’t think that meeting behind closed doors and trying to reason with [the UCP] when they bargain in bad faith will prevent them from instituting this.”

The University of Calgary is hosting an Undergraduate Tuition Town Hall today at noon in MacEwan Hall A to discuss proposed changes to tuition and fees.

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