Opinion: The YES campaign on CFS membership
Friday, April 2, 20109 Comments
This may come as a shock, but presidents of universities talk to each other.
In fact, they meet regularly, compare notes and share strategies for campaigns they want to undertake—like changing programs or creating new sector-wide policies.
Sometimes, when senior administrators get together, they make plans that are generally opposed by students. To figure out how to implement these campaigns, they look at how students have reacted at other campuses to similar changes. And when students oppose a policy change, such as a reduction in student space or fee increases, they look to see how similar policies were opposed on other campuses.
Students meet at this level too. The way this is done is through the Canadian Federation of Students, Canada's largest and oldest national student organization. It is through our Federation that students are able to respond to decisions made by administrators and democratically decide on and push for wide-ranging positive changes that suit our interests and needs.
Recently, when Guelph’s administration made budget cuts, they unfairly targeted Women’s Studies. Students were opposed to these cuts and had different ideas for addressing the institution’s financial needs. To respond, students launched a campaign, and through the Federation they made connections with other campuses that faced similar cuts to push back and find alternatives other campuses were using to address these issues.
The campaign against program cuts was not isolated to Guelph. Students fought similar campaigns at Queen’s, the University of Ottawa and the University of Toronto. Through the Federation, students at each campus were able to network and collectively resolve to strengthen and expand their campaign. The Federation was the only student organization that spoke out against program cuts and helped to coordinate a solidarity campaign with other students’ unions who were not only facing similar situations, but who were concerned about the situation at Guelph.
This happened because none of our struggles as students are isolated. University underfunding is a policy set by the Ontario government, influenced directly by size of transfer payments sent by the Federal government. Like the Council of Ontario Universities, that represents Guelph senior administrators, and the Canadian Association of University Teachers that represents Guelph faculty, the Canadian Federation of Students helps to unite peoples’ voices to advocate for change in government decisions at both the provincial and federal levels.
Students have strong public support for their demands. More than 90 percent of Ontarians believe that tuition fees are too high. If Guelph students are going to have any hope in pressuring the government into capitalizing on such public support, they are going to have to work with other students. Without resources in Ottawa or Toronto and without regular meetings with government decision-makers, students at Guelph will not be able to add their voice to the broader movement. Guelph students have those resources through membership in the Federation. Together, with students from St. John’s to Nanaimo we can advocate for a system of higher education that all students can access, regardless of their financial standing. We can fight to make our campuses more accessible for all.
System-wide change is not going to happen only by working internally on our own campuses. Just because bottled water is phased out at one campus does not mean the industry will change its ways. Students need to work together to change the system itself, so that bottled water sales stop at all campuses. Students need to work together to ensure that no orientation shirts are made in sweatshops, not just the ones worn at Guelph. Real change will only happen if we unite with students across Canada, and the only progressive student voice engaged in this work is the Canadian Federation of Students.
If you think that Guelph students need to be part of the campaign to improve the lives of all students, you should vote yes to remain a member of the Federation.
Working together gets results. Together, students have been able to make post-secondary education a priority of the current Ontario government, resulting in an additional $310 million investment into the sector for 2010-11. Nationally, students were able to access the first-ever national system of needs-based grants, a victory of the Federation’s nation-wide Grants not Loans campaign in the fall of 2009. We also worked together to gather information that has formed ground-breaking reports, like the Task Force on the Needs of Muslim Students in 2006, and the Task Force on Campus Racism. Together, these documents help students identify ways in which to fight against oppression in our classrooms and on our campuses. If working together benefits our professors and university presidents, then it will benefit students as well. If students are going to have any say at all, we must remain united with students across Ontario and Canada through the Canadian Federation of Students.
Dave Molenhuis is the Treasurer for the Canadian Federation of Students.
The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question