Time to Grow Up

A showdown is brewing between the students who were elected to represent the student body and the woman who was appointed to represent the university.

The trouble is one of the parties wasn’t well informed.

After Concordia President Judith Woodsworth spoke to the education committee of the National Assembly on the contentious issue of increased tuition last week, the Concordia Student Union went to work trying to twist her words to make her the boogeyman of capitalist policy.

Whether by ignorance or malice, the CSU invented some of the president’s remarks.

While standing in front of the committee on education, Woodsworth didn’t actually say that she was proposing American-style tuition or that she didn’t want part-time students to get financial aid, but whoever updates the CSU’s twitter feed would disagree on both those points.

Not only was the CSU chomping at the bit to demonize Woodsworth, but CSU President Prince Ralph Osei told a Link reporter that he was upset that “student leaders” weren’t allowed to participate in the conference.

But what would our esteemed student leaders have told the National Assembly? The CSU has never clearly defined a position on the tuition debate, other than blindly opposing all tuition increases. When asked for some more information on their policy on tuition increases, CSU executives repeatedly referred The Link reporters to their Twitter feed.

The CSU prefers to take its lead from the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec and the government of Quebec. Depending on what way FECQ and the government decide to react to the tuition debate, the CSU will eventually choose its path. This is a reactive policy that threatens to leave Concordia’s student leaders sitting on the seventh floor of the Hall building when they should be negotiating a plan to resolve this conflict.

Despite having many months and years to formulate an effective counter-argument to the Judith Woodsworths of the world, FECQ’s stance has been largely the same as the CSU: Raise tuition and we’ll strike.

It’s disappointing that the new CSU team is jumping headfirst into such petty politicking rather than actually trying to inform students about the issue. Although, I suppose such transparent political survivalism is to be expected from a group whose election-day credentials consisted mainly of being the most enthusiastic poster printers.

Elected without an opposition and with the full support of the previous administration, Osei’s team is only now facing its first real challenge. Fighting a tuition increase put forward in the least student-friendly budget in the province’s recent history is not a time to learn political acumen and courage. However, that is what this CSU executive will need to do.

The point is not whether Woodsworth wants to make financial aid available to part-time students—she does. The question is whether she’s helping to create a Quebec where financial aid is the only way a part-time student can get a university degree. The CSU’s job is to provide an alternative.

Unfortunately, the proposed alternative vision seems to be stuck in the mud of hopeless idealism and tired anti-authoritarian rhetoric that amounts to “Yeah, but.”

By threatening to foment dissension should tuition be raised, Osei has spoken for all students. Rather than coming to the table with a reasonable alternative, the CSU has offered nothing but trying to score cheap political points by rabble-rousing and misinformation.

Woodsworth is indeed misguided in her idea that higher tuition means more students, but until an articulate counter-argument is made that frankly deals with the money problems of our university system, raging blindly against these seemingly inevitable tuition hikes cannot be successful.

I don’t agree with Mrs. Woodsworth when she says that raising tuition is the only way to solve the financial woes of Quebec’s universities. But I do agree with her when she says that it’s unlikely our student leaders would bring anything meaningful to the debate.

Until the CSU can prove otherwise, all they are doing is polarizing the debate and making sure that Woodsworth is more likely to be successful simply by virtue of being the only adult in the conversation.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 02, published August 24, 2010.