By Mary Chan
The Students’ Union approved a motion to allocate $30,000 toward legal fees related to the tuition fight at Tuesday’s Students’ Legislative Council meeting. But they’re not filing anything-at least not yet.
By the end of the week, SU President Paul Galbraith intends to send a letter to Minister of Advanced Education and Career Development Clint Dunford outlining why he cannot approve a raise in tuition at the U of C for the next school year. The SU’s arguments are based on the legislated Universities Act and the Alberta Advanced Education and Career Development Tuition Fee Policy.
"The Universities Act says that boards can increase fees subject to the approval of the minister," said Galbraith. "The ministry has a document, the Tuition Fee Policy, and everybody in the Alberta post-secondary institution follows that document to the letter."
The Tuition Fee Policy states that a consultation process must take place before fees can be raised at a university.
"What’s happened is that the university hasn’t told us its position fully, and a requirement of any sort of consultation is that they do that," explained Galbraith. "Furthermore, they haven’t allowed us the opportunity to present our position fully to the Board [of Governors] and that’s a critical element to consultation."
The SU plans to argue that since meaningful consultation did not occur, the university violated the Tuition Fee Policy and therefore ACED Minister Clint Dunford should not approve any tuition raise the U of C requests.
"If the minister doesn’t enforce that policy, we’ll reconsider our options at that time, and one of those options is going to be to go to the court and ask the court to enforce the policy on students’ behalf," said Galbraith.
The motion passed 13 to 6 at SLC. Among those who voted against it were SU Vice-president Academic Toireasa Jespersen and SU VP Operations and finance Amanda Affonso.
Affonso found money to be an issue.
"For us to spend up to $30,000 on something that may not guarantee a win or a success, I have a real problem with that," she said. "I am the VP finance and I am financially responsible for this organization."
Jespersen added that though legal action would give the tuition fight exposure, it may not be entirely positive.
"The statement that it makes will be very a powerful one, and from that perspective it was the right decision," she said. "It will certainly get the issue in the public eye. Whether the way we will be examined in the public eye will be favourable or not is another issue."
Both said that they will fully support the motion now that it has been passed by council.
The results of an unscientific survey conducted by members of the
U of C Speech and Debate Society and various political clubs on campus were presented during Question Period at Tuesday’s SLC.
According to Speech and Debate Society President Melanie McNaughton, 55 per cent of students thought the SU should not go ahead with a lawsuit to sue the university over consultation, 30 per cent thought the SU should go ahead and 15 per cent were undecided. Eighty seven per cent of students thought there should be a referendum to determine student support for both the suit and its cost, while seven per cent were against and six per cent undecided.
Despite claims that the survey was biased, McNaughton stressed the importance of gauging student opinion.
"With all the potential ramifications involved I thought that students should have the opportunity to be informed and voice their opinion on what they thought," she said.
Citing his pledge to resign if the legal fees motion passed and his belief that legal action against the
U of C and Alberta government was misguided and will most likely fail, External Commissioner Chad Conrad resigned on Wednesday. In his letter of resignation, Conrad also stated that either "my opinions do not represent those of students and therefore I do not belong on this council and/or it is a waste of my time and resources to continue to work for students in this forum."
On a related note, SLC unanimously passed the second reading of the Tuition Action Committee motion, which allotted $19,322.30 toward the on-campus tuition awareness campaign.
TAC team co-chair and SU VP External Nassr Awada was thrilled over the support.
"I was ecstatic," he said. "We’ve been working like crazy on this."