1,200 Turn Out Against Tuition Increases

  • With more than 900 undergraduates behind the Hall building, Concordia’s students made history and sent a strong message to the Quebec’s government: tuition won’t increase without a fight. Photo Erin Sparks

Under rain and wet snow, organizers for the Wintry Hot Accessible Love-in for Education registered over 1,200 students, 900 of whom were undergraduates, yesterday morning to pass a motion expressing the Concordia Student Union’s condemnation of proposed tuition increases.

The WHALE took place on Valentine’s Day on the Hall building terrace in miserable weather and featured activities lampooning the university’s Board of Governors for their untimely firing of Judith Woodsworth and their support for increased tuition fees.

The rally turned into a march when around 150 soaked students spilled onto MacKay Street and wove their way through slush-laden streets and in and out of Concordia’s downtown campus buildings.

“I think it was an historic moment in Concordia’s history,” said Lex Gill, one of the organizers of WHALE. “Students are excited and mobilized. I think today people realized they were a part of something bigger.”

The goal of the rally was to have the CSU pass binding motions to call for a Day of Action to protest expected tuition raises and to change the quorum—the amount of students needed to make Special General Meetings and motions official—from 2.5 per cent to 1.5 per cent.

At around 12:15 p.m., organizers announced that they had exceeded quorum for the SGM and then passed the two motions.

Until today, the CSU required around 790 students present at a meeting to make motions legally binding. One of the motions that passed today will reduce this number to around 500. This change is important because, according to organizers, there are no locations on the downtown campus where more than 500 people are permitted to gather.
It will also make initiating cha-nge less daunting for CSU members.

While organizers believe that this change is significant for future CSU efforts, what was on the mind of most of the students was the call for a Day of Action to protest tuition hikes.

“As of now I can manage, but if they increase [the fees] it will be difficult,” said Vinith Anand, an international student from India studying engineering. According to Anand, he is paying around $6,500 per semester to attend Concordia.

Some project that tuition fees will go up an additional $500 per year for the next three years. Since 2007, when the Jean Charest government ended the tuition fee freeze, tuition costs have already been raised by almost 30 per cent, according to the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec.

“[These protests are] very important because we need to send out a clear message to this government before the next Quebec budget, because that’s when they promised they would hike tuition fees,” said Louis-Philippe Savoie, president of FEUQ.

Savoie hopes that the success of this event will give momentum to future rallies—such as the wider demonstrations taking place in Montreal and throughout Quebec on March 12, which will be directed at the Quebec budget.

“The primary target is the Liberal Party of Quebec,” said Gill. She added that one of the ways to Quebec’s National Assembly is through the Board of Governors, who are “people in positions of power who have the ability to influence policy and don’t, or do in their own interest.”

“Students are excited and mobilized. I think today people realized they were a part of something bigger.”

—Lex Gill,
WHALE Organizer

Many of the organizers seemed stunned and elated at the turnout. Matthew Brett, the communications coordinator for the event, said that he was unsure if the rally would draw enough students. He also said that getting support from CSU officials was frustrating and it required a push “just to get a bit of funding from student representatives.”

Another organizer, CSU VP Sustainability & Promotions Morgan Pudwell, said that the CSU provided $1,900 in funding, the GSA provided $600­­­­­ and Free Education Montreal gave $1,900 for the event.

The money went into promotion, snow removal and complimentary food to help bring students out. The provost of Concordia also granted academic amnesty to all students wishing to attend the rally. The amnesty would allow students not to be penalized for any missed classes or assignments due during the event.

“I told all my students that they should come out […] to support,” said Scott Chlopan, a part-time faculty member in the education department.

The motions passed will now be brought to the Board of Governors. Organizers hope that will “get the ball rolling” in mobilizing other students and preventing any further tuition hikes.

This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 23, published February 15, 2011.

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