Students, staff strategize to derail potential deregulation

The renewed prospect of tuition deregulation has once again prompted some students to come together to decide on a plan of action.

More than 25 students and several professors gathered in Kingston Hall on Tuesday night to discuss the possibility of deregulation at Queen’s, which has arisen this time following the Ontario government’s recent announcement of the upcoming end to the tuition freeze.

The informal meeting was organized through e-mail.

Sean Collins, a graduate student, began the meeting by giving a brief overview of the history of deregulation at the University.

“In the fall [of] 2000 ... there was rhetoric coming from the administration about the deregulation of tuition fees,” Collins said. “It was strictly a Queen’s initiative, which is different from [the situation] now.”

Collins said campaigns were created at that time to fight deregulation. A referendum was also held on the issue, in which students voted 91 per cent against deregulation.

“Eventually, deregulation disappeared,” Collins said. “It just sort of vanished and administration didn’t talk about it anymore.”

In 2002, the deregulation issue again came to the fore when then-Principal Bill Leggett asked the provincial government to exempt Queen’s from Ontario’s two per cent cap on tuition increases.

Collins said a group of students organized a protest against the proposal, locking themselves in the principal’s office for five days. Eight days later, the government announced that Queen’s would not be exempt.

“The only lesson learned is that since 1981 [when the first demand was made for deregulation] until now, [deregulation] has always been a threat and will always be one,” Collins said.

Alex Caldararu, a graduate student in sociology, moderated the meeting. He said it had no formal agenda and the floor was open for discussion.

Ethan Rabidoux, AMS president, told the audience the administration is re-examining deregulation on the basis of recommendations made in last year’s Rae Review to increase local autonomy.

“They’re trying to repackage [deregulation] by saying, ‘Let’s convince them it’s not deregulation,’” he said.

AMS VP (University Affairs) Shiva Mayer said he wanted to clear up a few rumours.

“Tuition isn’t the only point that the Rae Report looked at,” Mayer said. “The Rae Report advocated local decisions regarding how funding would work.”

Mayer said local decisions can be beneficial, but this depends on how decisions are made. “I am against deregulation ... but there are some cases where local decisions can be good,” he said. “There is some merit in saying that universities know what their priorities should be, but that shouldn’t be mistaken for [saying] universities can decide how much tuition will be.”

Mayer added that the AMS is also against deregulation.

“The best way to sum it up is there has never been an AMS executive or individual who would ever say they were in favour of deregulation,” he said.

Eric De Domenico, ArtSci ’08, said the context surrounding the deregulation issue is different this time because the government is in full cooperation with universities.

“[Premier] Dalton McGuinty said he would end the tuition freeze,” De Domenico said. “It is not just Queen’s going to the government and pleading for deregulation. Queen’s has been given the go-ahead this time.”

Mayer explained that the current effective freeze on tuition means that the real value of tuition remains the same, but the dollar figure increases at 0.9 per cent a year according to the consumer price index.

He said the University has kept tuition frozen for the last four years, but has increased ancillary fees over the years. Omar Kadrie, ArtSci ’06, said students need to remember “deregulation” only refers to who is setting tuition.

“Deregulation doesn’t in itself equal higher tuition,” Kadrie said. “It is just that history has shown us that.”

Richard Day, professor of sociology, agreed, saying he expected tuition to rise if deregulated.

“[The University has been] salivating for 25 years to crank the tuition as high as possible,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any reason to be confused about what deregulation means at Queen’s.

“It means tuition will go sky-high once they get the chance.”

De Domenico said he thinks the Office of Advancement’s contribution of $270 million for the Queen’s Centre project will hurt students’ accessibility to the University even further if tuition is deregulated.

“For the next 10 years, as much money [as] they can give is going to the Queen’s Centre, so bursaries are in big trouble,” he said. “Deregulation will be an even bigger problem for students who can’t get here in the first place.” After students discussed the risks of tuition deregulation, the discussion moved to the topic of what they could do to address the issue.

“We need good knowledge of the system if we’re going to confront it,” said Andrew Stevens, a sociology graduate student.

He said students need to closely examine University administrators’ stance on the issue.

Collins said boundaries need to be set on how money is distributed throughout the University.

Fathima Cader, ArtSci ’07, asked where she could find information about how funds are used at the University.

“[That information] is very well hidden and you can’t get it,” Day said. “There is a massive removal of history right now.”

Collins said he encourages students to be critical of the University.

“It is about getting into the guts [of the administration] to see how the process works and exposing how it works for all students to see why there is no democracy at this campus,” Collins said.

The meeting ended with a discussion about how students opposed to deregulation fees would respond to a deregulation proposal.

De Domenico suggested creating an outreach committee that will work towards raising awareness of deregulation at local high schools. This suggestion was adopted.

“They will be hit most in the immediate future,” he said. “We need to raise awareness. Parents will get mad and we get community support.”

Along with the outreach group, the students created a research group that will work with a media relations team to raise awareness around campus.

Students were encouraged to sign up for these groups at the end of the meeting.

The students will meet next on Nov. 29 from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Grad Club to further discuss the issue and the progress each group has made.

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