Student Protests

People who follow me on Twitter know that I don’t have a special place in my heart for many of the op-ed columnists in the Globe and Mail. Both Margaret Wente and Jeffrey Simpson have weighed in regarding the student protests in Quebec. Students that I work with on the campus where I teach have asked me about my opinion and I haven’t really commented. But, as the multiple sides discuss options and a hopeful resolution, I’ve come to several opinions.

My first opinion is that the students do have a right to protest the fee hike. They have a right to feel angry. They may not like hearing that their fees are small in comparison to ROC, but it’s true—their fees are relatively low. Simpson can cite all the data he wants about which universities are the most prestigious, but he is forgetting that Francophone nationalism is at play here. This is about keeping education affordable in Quebec for  students from Quebec. One cost of the maintaining a strong Francophone culture is subsidizing education. Whether the ROC wants to subsidize this education is another discussion. And, I say this knowing that I am merely a permanent resident and a visitor on these lands in the greater Victoria, BC area.

My second opinion is that the students reviewing the university budget and asking that advertising and administrative travel be slashed is completely unrealistic. This is an unfortunate example of sheer naiveté. I’m sorry, I said it. Most major universities and colleges will get some free advertising via their local newspaper and news affiliates and this free advertising will be worth tens of thousands of dollars and possibly more. But, there are other advertising costs that the university makes in order to recruit more students, staff, and world-class faculty. It costs money to put together recruitment materials. When the recruitment teams go to high schools those tri-fold brochures or larger paper matter costs money. The team of students and staff who take families on tours cost money.

Here is just one display of advertising materials:

I only noted one part of the advertising. There is also advertising in international venues.  Cutting advertising costs can also influence retention of current students, staff, and faculty. Advertising current initiatives costs money and this varies from the reports, advertisements about homecoming events, and more. If we break it down by faculty and department, money is often spent to showcase the great work that is taking place on the campus. It’s important to promote staff, student and faculty work. Slashing the advertising costs doesn’t just influence potential students, but also current students, staff, and faculty. I am sure that my colleagues in communications can weigh in and say more. Likewise, all the advertising that Career Services offices do is important.

Now, the upper administration travel costs is a sore spot at most universities. I think that the we could probably review some of this and see if more conference calls, webinars, Skyping or other technological use could defray costs. However, this is not always easy to do. Students might not realize that on top of running the respective units the upper admin also attend local, regional, and national deans meetings, provost, college presidents meetings, and then there are articulation and planning meetings. Add to this possible recruitment meetings and you can see how many of these upper admin types do have to travel lots. But, perhaps they don’t have to travel not as much as they currently do. I’m a bit more realistic with this point—even if I don’t completely agree

Funny enough I was reminded of this the other day when I was booking my accommodations for the Canadian Political Science Association meeting in Edmonton, AB. I was thinking about the protests and I booked the second most inexpensive arrangements. I’m not paying for this trip, but the Provost’s office is and in some way I was thinking that students are paying for this. (They are not). But, I’ll be in the dorms in my single room—with my own bathroom.

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