Tag Archives: post-secondary education

General Assemblies, student movements and Québec’s cégeps

6 Nov

Half of the members’ meeting at Ryerson Students’ Union, Nov, 2010 (courtesy: The Eyeopener)

Having watched most of the Québec student protests from Ontario, I’ve obviously spent hours thinking about the differences between the Québec student movement and the Ontario student movement. And I’ve come up with a few theories that I hope to write into something…someday.

Luckily, others have similar questions as I do. Doug Nesbitt, PhD student at Queen’s and the local PSAC president, has done some thinking on this. And so, because I’ve spent most of my day dealing with the bureaucracy of the state in French and my brain is fried, I’m sharing with you what he’s posted at his blog. Nothing I write next will be as good as his analysis…

Doug focuses on the role of General Assemblies and how they have helped to build Québec’s movement into what it is today. I agree that GAs have been critical to politicizing generations of students. They have helped to circumvent conservative student leadership and maintain the necessary accountability of those students who “float to the top” of a formal students’ union’s executive.

But I can’t believe that it’s *just* General Assemblies. While GAs politicize students who attend them, what is the factor getting students in the door in the first place?

At Ryerson, our General Meetings would normally reach 150 students while more contentious meetings may have topped out at 400. At McMaster University last year, thanks to a heavy advertising campaign and the promise of the MOST AMAZING FROSH WEEK EVAAARRRR more than 600 students attended the MSU GA to vote in favour of an ancillary fee hike. It’s hard to explain how this is possible if we look only at the GA model and how it has fueled generations of activists in Québec. These Ontario examples don’t make sense.

I think that the most significant reason for the differences in the student movements in Ontario and Québec isn’t just the decision-making structure, it’s the role of cégeps.

During my time in the student movement, I always found graduate/second degree/college transfer students easier to organize. They came to their new educational tier with baggage: debt from a previous degree/diploma/certificate, experience (sometimes negative) from another degree (and even school) and maturity that grew out of their first round of post-secondary education. They spent more time in the system and were more ready to challenge what they had witnessed in their first educational experiences as being unjust, but not necessarily having the time, opportunity or willingness to act. I found my work to explain the effects of debt, tuition fees, large classes etc. was always easier with these students as they had an experience that we could link the facts to.

Imagine if Ontario’s colleges were full of students who had already done a few years at college? Imagine every student walked into a university already having experienced the soul-crushing bureaucracy of higher education? The context for organizing would be entirely different.

There’s a reason why cégep students lead the strikes in Québec. The dangerous combination of free higher education, a radicalizing movement and participatory democracy blew up into an amazing student strike. And every university student involved in the strike had been introduced to the student movement either directly or indirectly through their time at cégep.

This has to be said: identifying this difference isn’t to say that it is impossible for Ontario students to organize provincially in the way Québec students have. I think it’s critical that if Ontario students are going to figure out how best to carve out their own movement, the right analyses of the differences (and similarities) are necessary to lead to appropriate organizing techniques.

I have a lot more to say about this…and it’s later than I had intended to be up (and I wrote more than I intended to write) but I will flesh this out. I’m interested in feedback too, as always, but especially on this. The history of the student movement (or movements) hasn’t been told well enough…and who better to tell it than those of us who’ve been there.

What will it take to make it stop?

3 Sep

I can tell when I’m being mocked.

I spent the day painting, sanding and caulking. I sat down at my computer with some tea and thought it was time to write something for this blog. But I couldn’t think of what.

Thankfully, Louise Brown at the Toronto Star came through (just like old times when I worked at the CFS). She posted this.

Now, I’m not going to spend time deconstructing the journalism of the story, or why it would be the case that this is news, now (on a Sunday of a long weekend, 3o days before the subject of the article is set to be released), but I am going to go bananas on the content of the article.

Glen Murray’s at it again. And, knowing the yesmen and yeswomen that he has built around him at the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, he’s not going to get the advice that he needs to hear.

I’ve wrote about this plan a few times. Here, for Huffington Post. Here, on this blog. In case you missed it, here’s a primer:

A document was leaked that promised to push through a suite of changes to higher education in Ontario that included:

Shortening degrees to four years
Placing 1/3 of all undergraduate courses online
Forcing schools to offer education in three semesters
Docking university budgets by 3% if this plan isn’t implemented
Boosting university budgets by 3% if the plan is implemented and the president calls Glen personally to say he’s really, really smart.

[ok, I made up the last part]

The plan was panned by nearly everyone that matters in the sector.

In a stunning show of idiocy, Murray’s Ministry continued with the plan as if nothing had happened. A discussion paper was issued and consultations occurred over the summer. But, because we *already* know the plan, we know that the results are already figured and that these consultations are a dog and pony show, similar to the one Bob Rae was torn up over by Ontario’s students, staff and faculty, in 2006.

On Sept. 30, Murray will either announce exactly what was contained in the leaked document from February, or soften it somewhat so that it’s a “good news story” full of consultation and a pleased OUSA and CSA.

Here’s what’s absolutely certain: nothing will actually come of these changes. OUSA and CSA will be pleased.

One year tomorrow I was stuck at the door of the Liberal Party platform launch at a hotel in downtown Toronto. Dalton McGuinty, with an adoring Murray looking on (I’m guessing), announced that tuition fees would be reduced for Ontario undergraduate students by 30%. One year later, we now know that the program offered a grant of less than 30% to one in nine Ontario students.

This plan is going to be similarly distorted. We know this because it’s happened with the credit transfer system promise (other than the creation of a committee, nothing’s happened) and the online institute (something happened, and it was shelved).

Heather Mallick wrote this in response to the last time this report was written about. It’s really good and I’m not going to repeat what she says.

But, I will say this.

Ontario students do not want three year degrees. This can be said with certainty as we look at how nearly all of Ontario’s three-year degrees were phased out since the elimination of OAC.

Ontario students do not want three semesters. It’s not practical. Thanks to the same government, working during the summer is a necessity. The working theory that Murray et al. had was that if students could study all summer, they could take advantage of a job market less saturated by workers, like during the winter. Except the job market doesn’t work like that. There aren’t thousands of workers taking summer holidays leaving open spots for students. Instead, they’ll be fighting each other over Tim Horton’s and McDonalds jobs in January.

Ontario students do not want to be forced to take an online class. Ever taken an online class? IT ISN’T THE SAME AS CLASS IRL. It just isn’t. Allowing students the choice to study online isn’t what’s being proposed. As Ryerson University President Sheldon Levy once said in a pre-budget consultation, no 17-year-old proudly announces to their parents that they’re going to school, and runs into his room, closes the door and goes online.

And, contrary to Louise Brown’s article’s assertion, no student wants to be one of 3,500 fucking students in a single first year class. No one. I don’t care if Jesus is playing the banjo for the duration of the course. It’s not education. At best, its entertainment. At worse, it’s the rock bottom of a system that has had the shit kicked out of it so badly by government after government that it will never recover.

Just like the current assault on teachers, this is an attempt to destroy Ontario’s higher education system. The most outrageous part is that words like “innovative” “creative” “transformation” and (my personal favourite because it makes me want to drill my fist into the monitor of my computer) “spend smarter” are taking the place of the words that should actually be there: austerity, cut backs, destruction. If the Ontario Liberals haven’t figured out how to “spend smarter” after being in office since 2003, it’s time to resign.

Each one of these changes will need to be approved by Senates, Boards of Governors and unions/faculty associations. There are enough obstacles to stop it that, if unified, students and workers should be able to. It’ll also likely be opposed by free-thinking administrators, who will likely oppose this just as much as the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.

But, they going to have to oppose this with everything they have. And it’s not going to be easy, with OUSA and CSA cheer-leading from the sidelines.

Glen: I know you love the Internet and I assume you’re an avid Googler of your name. When you eventually find this, I need you to read this to yourself, internally, using the voice of your mother. Stop this hair-brained scheme. Stop it immediately. You’re going to fail or (what’s worse) you’re going to destroy Ontario’s education system. It’s the opposite of what Ontario needs, what students want and it shows that you’re dangerously unqualified for the portfolio you hold.

If you want to maintain the facade of capability, make this plan disappear.