To Undergraduate Students of the University of Ottawa,
Last year UOttawa made history when we became the first campus in Ontario to have General Assemblies as the highest decision making body of our Student Federation. We achieved this victory with a referendum that ended in 1968 students voting YES to GA’s. This clearly showed us that students not only wanted but embraced new structures and methods, but that students are also willing to get engaged in ways that the SFUO has previously not presented them. In light of this fact, among many others, the Revolutionary Student Movement is calling for a strike in spring 2015 to challenge both our ridiculously high tuition fees and the new code of conduct that the University is quietly introducing this year. This letter will further expand on these issues and hopefully answer a lot of questions many students may have about the strike.
1) Is Tuition really that big of a deal?
Yes, our tuition has risen every year for the past 9 years. This year tuition fees went up 3% for domestic undergraduate students, 5% for domestic graduate students and those in “professional programs”, and 10% for international students. Despite rising fees, we have not seen a significant improvement in our quality of education. In fact, our quality of education has decreased. We have extremely large class sizes, many of the buildings on campus are inaccessible, and courses and programs such as journalism are being cut. Students do not have access to adequate study space and are paying way too much for residence. Many students work part-time or full-time jobs (sometimes more than one) to put themselves through school. Tuition is a significant burden for many students, and potential students.
2) Don’t we have student representation at the Board of Governors?
In theory yes. However, students have only 3 out of 31 seats on the Board of Governors. In the past, students have been prevent from voting on measures regarding tuition fees due to a supposed “conflict of interest”. The other 28 seats on the Board of Governors are filled by the university’s upper administration and representatives from large corporations. To quote from an SFUO Membership Advisory that was released earlier this year: “Undergraduate student representative Vincent Mousseau motioned to include a tuition freeze in the budget for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year. Undergraduate student representative Myriam Whalen proposed a motion for the Treasury Committee to draft alternative budgets next year, including one that considers a tuition fee freeze. Both motions were overwhelmingly defeated. This disheartening defeat solidified the reality that the Board of Governors will not consider alternatives and refuses to work with students.” This quote shows overwhelmingly that the university is unwilling to work with students and that the structures which supposedly give us input in actual fact do not. The SFUO has used the same tactics of presenting motions and protesting student fees year after year with no successes. Ultimately, these measures have been exhausted. On the other hand Quebec has the lowest tuition fees in the country and a consistent history of winning those victories in strikes. If we want to successfully lower tuition and create an education system that is open to working-class students, we need to consider striking: a strike is our greatest asset.
3) Striking seems extreme, why not use other tactics like demonstrations or petitions?
Striking is a last resort. Other tactics and actions have failed on their own in the past. However, if they were to take place in the context of a strike they might be more effective. Striking necessarily has to incorporate a variety of actions in order to be effective. These actions can be marches, sit-ins, artistic events, vigils; no tactic should be overlooked but all should be in service of the strike demands and agreed upon by the students. The actions should also escalate over the course of the strike to be most effective.
4) But aren’t strikes just a thing that Quebec does? We don’t have that culture here…
We don’t have that culture yet. The strike culture in Quebec is not something that arose spontaneously. It has been continuously building since 1968 when a series of strikes took place in support of giving working class people access to post-secondary education. There have been a series of strikes in Quebec throughout the past 50 years, and this trend continues to this day with preparations for a strike in Quebec in the spring of 2015. Unlike Quebec, we have the history of Quebec strikes to look to for guidance, and in turn our struggles will help students in Quebec and across Canada win victories.
5) Will the strike go on forever?
The strike lasts as long as students decide for it continue. Ultimately strikes only work when the masses of students are mobilized and standing in solidarity. Students can vote to end a strike at any time or vote to extend the strike for a particular length of time. Ultimately we as students control when it stops, not the university.
6) Won’t this make it harder for me to finish my degree?
Yes, this can delay you finishing your courses and getting your diploma. However, so can debt and rising tuition fees. Many students drop out of school several times before finishing a degree in order to work to pay for tuition. Striking is a way for us to fight back against rising fees and mounting debt.
7) What does this mean for graduate students?
Since graduate students are organized under a different student union (GSAED), they are not bound by our strike vote. However, we should strongly urge GSAED to strike alongside us. A campus united can never be defeated.
8) Aren’t we just being selfish and greedy?
No, none of the students on this campus have had a say in any of the tuition fee increases we’ve faced. Most of us would rather be saving up for the future since, let’s face it, there are not many jobs waiting for us. This is not about greed: it’s about survival. Accumulating debt hurts students; many will never pay off their student loans despite hard work and perseverance. Furthermore, if tuition fees continue to increase at this alarming rate, our generation will not be able to afford to send our children to post-secondary education. This is not about saving a few bucks or haggling for a good deal, it’s about the fact that this is not a sustainable model of education. We are not only fighting for ourselves, but for all students across Canada and for the future.
9) I can afford tuition, why should I care?
Your generation’s children may not be able to say the same; even your younger siblings are going to have a tougher time paying if we don’t start lowering fees. Furthermore, you are letting down your classmates and anyone else who may want to come to university but cannot afford tuition.
10) What happens if the strike fails?
Failure is always a possibility, but there is also the possibility of victory. If the strike fails we will keep trying until we have eliminated tuition fees and have achieved open access to education for everyone. We will keep trying until we win.
Today we have the opportunity to make history and become the first school in English Canada to strike against tuition fees. Let’s not miss the opportunity. Vote yes to investigate the possibility of a strike in the spring of 2015. We have nothing to lose but our fees, we have a world to win.
The Revolutionary Student Movement (MER-RSM)