Students and Faculty Express Solidarity and Frustrations at Austerity Town Hall

A selection of the panel of students and faculty members at a Town Hall discussing austerity. Photo Shaun Michaud

A panel of students and faculty members came together at a Town Hall event to discuss austerity measures and the impact they’re already having on academia on Monday night.

The panel was composed of seven student organizations and one external coalition dedicated to opposing both user fees and the privatization of public services. Many of the panelists emphasized the systematic gutting of the university’s budget and the effects these cuts are having on the faculty at Concordia.

“When you start cutting budgets, the teaching budget is the big budget. That’s what you spend money on here,” said Robert Sonin, VP Mobilization for Teaching and Research Assistants of Concordia (TRAC). “When you cut that, what ends up happening is you have to replace outgoing, tenured professors who are retiring with cheaper staff.”

He continued by discussing the impact that austerity cuts have already had on teaching assistants, who are responsible for correcting and grading much of students’ work in 200-level courses. He explained that in some classes assignments were actually being cut, because the financial changes meant that TAs did not have enough budgeted working hours to grade them.

These difficulties are not limited to teaching assistants. Michael Giesbrecht, a representative for the Students of Philosophy Association (SoPhiA), discussed similar problems in the philosophy department.

“We haven’t received any full-time hires over the past four to five years, despite losing many faculty members,” he said, adding that the department has been hiring part-time faculty members on limited-term bases to fill the empty slots.

Several of the panelists also discussed the rhetoric used by the government and the media to portray austerity measures as a necessary evil.

“People look at austerity and deficits as if it’s some kind of natural, organic thing that just happened,” said Maria Peluso, a part-time professor in political science and the former president of the Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association (CUPFA). “We have a deficit because it was deliberately created. It was deliberately created because there’s always been, since the beginning of time, a scarcity of resources.”

Several other panelists echoed her sentiments. Joël Pedneault, a representative from the anti-privatization coaliton Non aux hausses, summarized the general state of the budgeting process.

“What we’re seeing right now across the board is spending cuts, program closures and increasing fees whenever that’s possible,” he said.

One of the main organizers for the event, Jonathan Summers, encouraged students to get involved in the movement. Interested parties could join Solidarity 2015, attend meetings Fridays at 5 p.m. and get involved with other groups.

“There’s a number of groups on campus that look at austerity measures,” he said. “They could also vote in the CSU referendum.

“This is a good avenue for students to come get involved and be able to speak about austerity and things that impact their life at school, and in their general lives as well.”