By Cristina Paolozzi, October 29 2021—
On Oct. 29, students from the University of Calgary organized outside Mac Hall in the Taylor Family Digital Library (TFDL) Quad in a province-wide Student Day of Action.
Recently, the U of C’s Board of Governors voted to approve the exceptional tuition increases for a second time, affecting the Medical Doctor program and the Bachelor of Science in Engineering program at the undergraduate level. Beginning in 2020, tuition has been raised 7 per cent every year since the five-year tuition freeze was lifted for the 2020-21 school year.
The three main goals of the demonstration were to freeze tuition, reverse the cuts made by the provincial government on post-secondary education and expand student resources.
Many student leaders and campus community members were seen in the Quad amidst the snowy weather, some taking to speaking to the crowd on the steps to Mac Hall.
Faculty of Arts Students’ Association (FASA) President Mateusz Salmassi was the MC at the demonstration and said that the goal was to build the biggest student movement in the province in a different way.
“We’re building capacity at the local level, on the department level, even a distributed network of organizers, to be able to stop academic activity in a democratic and organized way,” said Salmassi, referring to the 2012 student protests in Québec.
Board of Governors representative Frank Finley spoke about how important post-secondary institutions are for the province during this critical time.
“Universities, colleges and technical institutions are economic drivers that are vital for diversification,” said Finley.
Finely also said that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has painted students as a radical community, however, the struggles faced by students — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — have left students with no other option.
“Is it radical to want a system where students do not have to choose between putting food in their mouths or paying rent? Is it radical to expect a system where students should have a right to come and get an education to better themselves in the province?” he said. “I don’t think that’s radical at all.”
Fourth-year student Noor Fatima who was present at the demonstration said that it was important for them to show up as their tuition has more than doubled since they began their studies at the U of C.
“I also did not get any loans this time around, and I was like, “How the hell am I going to pay?’ That’s not okay and I don’t support that,” said Fatima.
Mickail Hendi, vice-president operations and finance of the SU, said that although there hasn’t been an official statement made by the SU on the Alberta Student Day of Action, the SU will advocate for students facing financial difficulties.
“We’re going to fight against budget cuts, against tuition hikes — that’s what we’ve always done and that’s what we’re going to continue to do,” said Hendi.
Vice-Chair of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) local 52, Prachi Mishra spoke about how the budget cuts specifically have been affecting university staff and how this ultimately trickles down to the student experience.
“When the first cuts came down, they first came to support staff,” said Mishra. “The University of Calgary has said that about 600 full-time positions have been lost. Reversing cuts means so much for students but it means so much for staff.”
Mishra said that while students may be experiencing less frequent custodial services or delays in communication from university staff, this doesn’t mean that staff members are ignoring their responsibilities.
“We want to be here, we work at the university for a reason,” she said. “It’s not just livelihood, it’s because we believe in the community, we believe in supporting students. And we can only do that if we have the right working conditions.”
Mishra spoke about the importance of student organization, citing a recent success with the delay in bookstore privatization.
“The lesson from that was you unite together and if you’re willing to be disruptive, you have a fighting chance to win,” she said.
“We’re a hot commodity to big businesses — we’re called highly-skilled labour,” said Salmassi. “If we disrupt the assembly line that is the education system, we have genuine leverage, so that’s what this work is about.”