Townhall draws student ire

By Ruth Davenport

They were out, they were loud and they had something to say.

University of Calgary students gathered in droves in the MacEwan Student Centre North Courtyard on Tue., Nov. 27 for the Students’ Union second Tuition Information Townhall. The townhall provided students with the opportunity to ask questions of the tuition consultation committee members. These included U of C Vice-President Finance and Services Keith Winter, Associate VP Student Services Peggy Patterson, Dean of Communication and Culture Kathleen Scherf, SU President Barb Wright and Graduate Students’ Association President Kevin Douglas.

Though well attended, there was a definite air of dissatisfaction among the audience.

"If you raise our tuition 3.7 per cent, then we as students demand that teachers not miss any classes, that student services increase and that the quality of our education improve," said one student to the panel. "If the Board of Governors cannot guarantee these things, they have no right to raise our tuition."

Questions from the student audience covered a range of topics ranging from a lack of student input during the consultation process to the ubiquitous affordability-quality conundrum.

"We deserve a higher quality of education," responded Wright to one such question. "But you can’t equate quality with how much we pay in tuition. We’re not here consuming a product, we’re making an investment. It’s not a business, it’s a public institution and tuition is an access fee that should go to create quality services."

Administrators expressed sympathy for the plight of students with multiple jobs and massive debt loads, but repeatedly emphasized the government’s role in keeping tuition costs low.

"Tuition is a result of government policy," said Winter. "In Alberta, government support for education is low and that’s why Alberta’s tuition is high. It’s incumbent on every one of us, faculty, students and administrators to make post-secondary education a priority."

Several students expressed dissatisfaction with the tuition consultation process.

"This one-hour town hall meeting three days before the Board of Governors meeting is the only opportunity for students to comment," said one student to the SU representatives. "Why has there been so little effort for student outreach?"

Another student asked Winter to postpone the BoG meeting on Friday until more consultation with students had taken place.

"We’ve been involved with this process since September," replied Winter. "I have to have the university budget finished by a certain date. That date is earlier than it was last year, which brings us here and the SU and the GSA have had opportunities to make their views known."

Patterson added that the student voice had been heard in the consultation process.

"Tuition consultation is a structured way of soliciting student input," she said. "Every year, the process is modified to ensure we hear the student input and I’m surprised to hear students feel they were not consulted, because from the outside it seems like the SU is doing a good job."

The tuition increase will be determined and approved at the public Board of Governors meeting at 8:30 a.m. on Fri., Nov. 30 in the Blue Room of the Dining Centre.

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