Students should engage with University’s future

One student takes a critical look at Hitchcock’s vision for ‘Engaging the World’

Aaron Lemkow, ArtSci '07
Aaron Lemkow, ArtSci '07

So Principal Hitchcock has plans for “Engaging the World.” The thing is, we don’t exactly know what those plans are.

Her series of poorly-advertised town meetings to allow members of the Queen’s community to share their thoughts about the future of this public institution have been anything but engaging, because of the lack of content—the lack of specific goals or directed vision—in her paper. However, three major themes have emerged from this paper, and they are just a tad unsettling.

Hitchcock’s vision for Queen’s includes her whole-hearted support for the deregulation of tuition in every program at Queen’s. For those of you don’t know what this term means, it is the ability of post-secondary institutions to set their own tuition levels without any control from the government. In the past, this has resulted in sky-rocketing tuition levels and thus decreased accessibility to post-secondary education.

It is a scary thought that many students here do not know exactly what this term means, but it is not surprising considering Hitchcock has shamelessly tried to disguise this issue as “local decision-making.” Does Hitchcock really believe that Queen’s students aren’t intelligent enough to be able to see through her preposterous rhetoric?

Hitchcock argues that deregulation is necessary to maintain a certain level of quality in Queen’s education. She also maintains that if and when deregulation is implemented at Queen’s, she will ensure that accessibility remains open for all potential students. This is a bold risk, and we students should not allow it to be taken without doing some background research. We might even consider the last university Hitchcock headed, the State University of New York (SUNY) Albany, where she was vice president of academic affairs from 1991 to 1995, and then interim president from August 1995 to 1996, after which she became president until she left the University to come to Queen’s in 2004.

In 2002 the New York Times reported the average tuition and other fees at SUNY campuses rose from $3,000 in the 1994-95 year to $3,700 the following year. After a seven-year freeze put in place by the government in 1995, fees jumped to around $4,100 for the 2001-02 year. But did either of these increases result in an increase of the quality of education? Absolutely not.

From 1994 to 1996, when tuition fees increased by $700 and when Hitchcock’s job was to be concerned with the quality of education, 1,596 full-time professor positions were eliminated—that’s 14 per cent of all faculty members. At the Albany campus, the German department was shut down, resulting in the termination of four tenured faculty, and the French department was reduced and merged into a broad languages department.

French professor Helen Regueiro Elam wrote in an open letter in the Albany Student Press that the administration of SUNY Albany “transformed the university into a country club ... with utter disregard for intellectual values, pedagogical priorities, or the larger role of a university in a democratic culture.”

Another fundamental vision that has come out of Hitchcock’s paper is the notion that she believes Queen’s should be an international school, and to her, this means attracting international students. I fail to see how this will increase the diversity or the global nature of our school.

Since tuition for international students is sky-high at around $15,000 per year, most international students who can afford to come here are from the global upper class, a group that commonly embraces western values. There is nothing wrong with this pool of students, but they do not necessarily reflect a truly international diversity.

If Queen’s really wants to increase the diversity of the student body, the University should start at its own doorstep. Canada is known for its diversity, and in fact, Toronto has one of the highest proportions of immigrants in its population than any other city in the world.

So why doesn’t Queen’s choose to recruit from this pool of potential students? The answer is money. International students are huge cash-cows. They pay thousands of dollars more in tuition fees than domestic students.

Another theme that emerges from Hitchcock’s paper is the tried-and-true notion that Queen’s graduates should be the leaders of tomorrow in a globalized world. Now, if we are to be leaders, then we should have students in positions of leadership within the University, right? Only four students have seats on the over 40-member Board of Trustees even though the 2002-03 operating budget demonstrates student dollars comprise roughly a third of the revenue.

Accessibility is an issue that affects both those who can afford to come here and those who cannot, because a diverse student body is essential to a well-rounded education.

It is not enough to simply disagree with Hitchcock and go on with your life. You can stand up and tell the university administration what you think by attending the final town hall meeting of the term. Protecting the integrity of this public institution requires action to be taken.

A group of students and faculty opposed to deregulation will be meeting on Nov. 29 at the Grad Club from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., and the final town hall meeting of the term takes place on Nov. 30 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Policy Studies room 202.

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