From the archives: In 2012, students across the country organized a National Day of Action on February 1. In the lead-up to the day, I wrote a series of posts prompting students to get active in the fight for Education as a right for themselves and the generations of students coming after them. I am re-publishing these posts in the wake of Doug Ford's attack on students' unions in Ontario, the only organized and well-resourced force that has historically resisted tuition fee increases and funding cuts to post-secondary education.
The announcement on post-secondary education by the Ford government was a showcase of the new cynical politics of the right-wing. It was painful to watch. The minister, looking as excited as a drowned cat, delivered an announcement of massive and destructive change to higher education in this province using an ugly caricature of Orwellian language.
Ontario universities have academic freedom enshrined in their very fabric, negotiated in collective agreements and outlined in the principles of their governing bodies. Protecting the rights of these organizations to continue their work is essential to maintaining the academic culture of free exchange on campuses. Instead of expanding and fostering the healthy freedom of expression enjoyed on Ontario's university and college campuses, the Ford government's new 'free speech' directive will put a chill on academic freedom and debate.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2018 Issue of the journal Academic Matters. All told, Canadian public universities are massive employers of students, teachers, researchers, librarians, academic and research support technicians, academic support workers (custodians, building services, food services, grounds and building maintenance), apprentices, councillors, utility workers, administrators, clerical workers, bartenders, security guards, and parking staff. Together, all of these workers maintain a space that fosters the advancement and dissemination of knowledge.
The Ontario Liberal's 2018 budget had a few large progressive sounding programs to announce. However, none of these were focused on the university system. Almost all of the budget outside the announcement of large subsidies to private childcare providers and pharma continued to be a standard Liberal fare - progressive sounding, regressive in implementation. The true impact of government spending on the university system will be the implementation of funding reforms not written explicitly into government spending. This is the case for much of the government's policies that seem to be ignored during budget time – even though these policies give the budget its true political framework.
Reading the news today is like living through a poorly written dystopian novel, but without any of the exciting grittiness that comes with a real apocalypse or the fun of Zombieland. And, the current contradictions make it difficult to focus on a topic to write about. We have economic growth with rising inequality. Right-wing populism without a populist left-wing response. The decline of social democratic parties, but with a rising acceptance of democratic socialist values. Increased access to knowledge, but less real understanding. Increased politicization, but no clear path to political power. It makes one's head spin.
Year after year, there is inevitably some incident in the media where an individual or group of people are publicly called out for wearing racist costumes during Halloween or other party seasons. For example, we've seen plenty of celebrities chastised for wearing offensive, racist, and distasteful costumes. As if on cue, shortly after Halloween this year, Canada's major media outlets reported on a party held by Queen's University students after comedian Celeste Kim posted pictures on her Twitter account that were originally posted in a private Queen's students Facebook group and denounced the attendees.
'In a report released today, the national statistics office says fewer young Canadians, who are not full-time students, are working in full-time jobs today than in 1976, a result driven mainly by the rise of part-time work rather than increases in unemployment rates or decreases in labour force participation.'
Activists continue to try to stop the clock from being turned back. However, with the election of far-right populists in America, that project has become more difficult. Rights activists have become both the leading edge of the fight and the rearguard.