Lakehead University Student Union (LUSU) and the Canadian Federation of Students have announced a new plan to ‘fight the fees’. Essentially, they are rebranding their annual proposal to vote no to tuition increases or to abstain from the vote at the board of governors meeting by participating in protests or sit ins. Annually, they lose these votes because they are outvoted by the rest of the board of governors and current/future students lose twice because they lose their voice and receive the tuition increases anyways.
The reason I am writing this blog is to show the folly of their plans and to provide a constructive criticism along with contempt as a student who suffers due to their actions. The board of governors typically votes during the summer at their general meeting on the amount of increase they will pass into tuition to help cover the expanded costs of operating the university. These costs are maxed out by the government and for many years it was 8% which is 2.5x times general inflation, currently it is 3%. Tuition rates have increased well beyond inflation and have caused severe strain for students and their financial supporters. I truly believe that the Ontario government and the Federal government need to look for new ways to prepare significant and stable funding increases for universities to cover costs. I would also like to see the Board of Governors move their meeting to during the school year so more students can be present and participate in the processes to which they are subject.
Yet, at the local level there are a number of things that could have been done to reduce the costs associated with the operation of the university and the services it provides to its students if LUSU was able to look beyond their own term in office. When LUSU votes ‘No’ or abstains from the vote at the board of governors they are effectively giving away any and all influence in the decisions on how that money is spent and what mandates we want it to go towards. This voice that students give the individual is wasted and thrown away and does nothing to benefit the university, students or future students.
Looking to the university campus there are a significant number of buildings that were designed, built and continue to operate in a pre-environmental concern mindset. Imagine if LUSU had voted for these fee increases and used that influence to change the landscape of the campus, reducing the number of buildings by combining them into larger structures which not only reduces the environmental impact, it reduces costs in taxes, heating, electricity, maintenance among many more. New facilities are also a huge draw for students and a larger student base spreads that cost over a much larger number of people meaning the individual cost is less. These new buildings influenced by LUSU and the students as to the needs and desires of students with an environmentally friendly and technology conscious mindset could help guide Lakehead for the next 50 years.
A reduction of current facilities into an amalgamated facility also allows for certain other things if the buildings are removed. Increased greenspace, opportunities for future facilities, expansion of facilities. As Lakehead is a school of the north and focuses heavily on the environment and forestry there could be community gardens, traditional aboriginal services or even cultural spaces from the many different communities and countries the international students come from. A modern campus would allow for a multitude of things to happen that could be increasingly beneficial for the student population, Thunder Bay and more.
Working with the university rather then fighting them also brings in a number of other impacts that could benefit student life and reduce the cost to students. Imagine in that new building (s) that LUSU worked with the university to build; it has a grocery store, cafe, among other privately run businesses that increase the offering of services on the campus and reduce the cost. It reduces the cost because now it is not only being shared by government/university and students it is being shared by government/university/students and private enterprise. It also provides employment for students to gain some much needed workplace experience, income and social connection that our university campus desperately lacks. We have 1,200 students on campus that live, study and socialize here. Its a captive audience for businesses lost by poor planning. Foresight, would reduce the cost of operating the university and the cost of university for the students.
As a student I have to question some of the auxiliary fees that I pay that go directly to support LUSU related activities or projects. I pay almost $17 for computer upgrade fees of which I use everyday through the wifi provided by Lakehead, school computers etc and yet I pay $6.66 for LUSU radio that I have never listened to. No private business operates with a subsidy so why is it that LUSU radio can not operate without a student subsidy; is the business plan so ineffective that it simply can not and as a student do I really want to pay for that failed business plan. Answer for me at least is NO. LUSU recently posed the question to students (couple years ago) about rebuilding the pool and the cost associated with that; they posed to students the question if they would be willing to pay for it. As a student who does not use the facility I see no personal benefit but others likely do and as a democratic organization if the student group said yes then that is fine to me. What I do question is: had LUSU considered working with the City of Thunder Bay in finding an operating agreement to use the complex as a facility for gym and pool. Other then a membership there is no cost to LUSU or the students. Whereas now we pay operating, staffing and maintenance costs. Had LUSU worked with the Board of Governors could that building could had been redone on Lakehead’s dollar and influenced other levels of government to reduce the costs. Could students have shouldered 15% of the rebuild cost rather then 100%.
Someone will probably try and say that it is impossible for students and the organization to work together since their goals and aspirations are so different. I would say to that person that they are wrong since Georgian College Student Association did just that. They put their money where their mouth is and put up cash to get a real voice in how it is spent within the organization. Their cash multiplies because they are working with other levels of government to fund the things that they want. They do not get to fund one project on their own they fund four because they are stretching their dollars. They do not get everything they want just as LUSU would not if they decided to go down this road. The influence would be much greater and we would see more student oriented items within campus.
Until LUSU and the Canadian Federation of Students get their heads out of the sand their doing more harm then good for students.