By Rhia Perkins
Students at the University of Manitoba are bemused by their Students’ Union’s recent actions. During the past month, the UMSU proposed a rally to protest the New Democratic Party government’s declaration of a tuition freeze, denied that it is protesting the government and indefinitely postponed the demonstration–all in the name of better quality education.
UMSU President Steven Fletcher believes the quality of education at the U of M is steadily deteriorating and demonstrations against the provincial government are essential for improvement.
"We’re protesting against the budget cuts made to education year after year," said Fletcher. "There was a $5 million budget cut this year, it just can’t go on."
U of M President Emoke Szathmary was dumbfounded by UMSU’s decision and disagrees with Fletcher’s evaluations of the funding situation at the university.
"What we got this year in the grant is the largest increase in 10 years," she said. "The province can’t rectify seven years of Tory cuts. You’ve got to be patient."
Szathmary also expressed skepticism concerning Fletcher’s comments about degree quality at the university.
Many groups on the U of M campus feel that information provided about the UMSU’s demonstration plans has been unclear.
"The goals and focus of this protest [seem to] have been changing quite consistently over the last two weeks," said Scott Clark, Executive Assistant to the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3909.
The Graduate Students’ Association and the Faculty Association at the U of M also expressed concern. U of M GSA President Amanda Jones speculated that the protest against the NDP was due to Fletcher’s plans to run for a Tory seat in Tuxedo, Manitoba.
Fletcher denies that his political convictions motivated the protest.
"What I do in my personal life is my own business," he said. "There is an issue here. We have a major problem with what is happening to our campus and any suggestions outside of that are ridiculous."
The UMSU also maintains that the majority of the campus population, including the University Senate, supports the protest.
The SU had been planning to postpone the demonstration from Sept. 21-28, as Orientation Week activities did not allow them enough time to prepare for the event. However, the rally was cancelled Sept. 12 at a meeting of the UMSU when Chairperson Duane Nicol declared that the SU’s decision to hold the rally had been made in violation of the union’s bylaws.