Squeaky wheels get no grease

By Jhenifer Pabillano

Protests against tuition increases were ignored as the University of Alberta Board of Governors approved a budget raising tuition by 3.65 per cent for the 2002/03 academic year.

The increase, approved at the Nov. 2 BoG meeting, will add $142 to basic U of A tuition fees, making tuition more than $4,000.

"Despite years of tuition increases, we have not seen those extra dollars reinvested into areas the university once claimed were priorities, namely salaries and classroom spending," said U of A Students’ Union President Chris Samuel.

Tuition and related fees at the U of A increased over 200 per cent since 1993, the largest tuition increases in Canada. Currently, the U of A has the sixth highest tuition in the country, but projected increases for the 2003/04 school year indicate the U of A may have the highest tuition in Canada.

Although the minutes of the meeting remain public, the decision to approve the 2002/03 increase by the BoG was made behind closed doors after student protestors created disturbances during the initial stages of the tuition debate. Protesters from the Student Worker Action Group waved placards, sang songs, and interjected comments to display their dissent. A student in a chicken suit also presented U of A Vice-President Academic Doug Owram with a tombstone to symbolize the death of affordable education.

SWAG also launched attacks on the SU proposal, calling the SU arguments "empty noise." They demanded a tuition freeze or rollback rather than a cap on increases.

"We’ve had a lot of antagonism between our group and the SU, because we are questioning their position as well as the BoG," said SWAG media relations representative Kirsten McCrea. "We feel they should take a harder stance and ask for a tuition freeze rather than giving in and going to the middle ground and asking for two per cent."

Owram appealed to the BoG to approve the 3.65 per cent increase, calling the tuition raise absolutely necessary to maintain competitive status with other institutions and to resolve financial difficulties due to the national economic decline. The SU and the Graduate Students Association formally detailed their appeal for a two per cent increase, citing university spending problems as the reason for the hike.

The SU felt the SWAG demonstration may have hurt the arguments against tuition increases instead of helping.

"The protesters have their voice," said Kory Zwack, SU Vice-President External. "Unfortunately it really shallowed out what we were trying to say and our argument against the 3.65 per cent."

Samuel agreed that the focus on a loud argument rather than a logical one took away from the discussion process.

"BoG members I had spoken with earlier that were adamant about asking the administration specific questions and de-manding responsible answers decided not to because they were afraid for their personal safety," he said. "There was no discussion whatsoever, because all the BoG members began to feel they wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. I understand [SWAG’s] desperation but ultimately the question can be asked, what was achieved?"

After losing this year’s tuition battle, Samuel said he would now work with both the province and the university to determine plans for the tuition increase at the U of A. Samuel explained that the SU will be involved in the provincial government review of its tuition fee policy. He also hopes to create a long-range plan at the university to adequately deal with tuition from a long term perspective.

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