Concordia University President Supports Free Education in Québec

Yesterday,  April 2, 2012, Concordia students occupied the 15th floor of the John Molson School of Business building. Their demands included academic amnesty for striking students and for the university to state their official position against proposed tuition hikes by the Charest government.

Still image from The Link video of April 2, 2012.

In a recent video produced by student newspaper, The Link, Concordia President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Frederick Lowy informally met with the students who refused to leave the hallway outside of his office and spoke to the crowd, during which he said:

“I personally would have no problem at all with zero tuition. With no tuition at all, provided the university could get operating funds from other sources. OK. There are other countries in the world, as you know, although not many but there are countries where there are zero costs to higher eduction, just like there is zero cost right now to elementary school education.”

Frederick Lowy must certainly know that there are indeed funds available, if only the Charest government would prioritize accessible higher education rather than subsidize mining corporations.

(2007 © Phil Angers taken from the graphic novel "Extraction!: Comix Reportage)

Here is just one particular source of funds that could (and should) replace the total sum of $265 million tuition fee increases [1] that the Charest government proposes. Consider this example from the Québec 2012-2013 budget: a $332 million grant of public funds is made available to extend route 167 so that the mining corporation, Stornoway Diamonds, can access public land for mineral extraction. Stornoway is only paying a fractional $44 million for the construction of a permanent road that leads nowhere else than its future mine.

“The Route 167 Extension is the $332 million road development project designed to connect the communities of Chibougamau and Mistissini to the Renard Diamond Project by way of a number of other prospective mining projects as well as the new Albanel-Temiscamie-Otish Park…

…On August 1, 2011 Stornoway announced the signing of two financing agreements with the Government of Quebec by which Stornoway will contribute to the construction and maintenance costs of the new road. Stornoway will contribute $44 million to its development …” [2]

Why is québécois society subsidizing this corporation to extract a non-essential mineral from public land?! Why has Premier Charest not consulted the public to ask us whether or not we would prefer to maintain and improve accessibility to higher education rather than to subsidize the profit margins of private corporations?! Would this money not be better spent on education or healthcare or anywhere else with longterm benefits for Québec citizens rather than for short-term dividends for corporate shareholders?

It is time for university administrators like Concordia President and Vice-Chancellor Lowy to break their silence. They must assume their roles as leaders of our public institutions to pressure Premier Jean Charest and Education Minister Line Beauchamp to begin dialogue with the student movement. Frederick Lowy should lead the way with his vision for zero fees for higher education in Québec.

All of Québec society — students and otherwise — should ask ourselves: Is it more beneficial for society to give money to private mining corporations so they may access public land for the extraction of gold or diamonds which are often socially and ecologically costly and only serve the interests of luxurious consumption and capitalist financing? Or is it more beneficial to take that same money and give it to public institutions to maintain or improve accessibility to higher education?

Now is the time to decide!


references:
[1] Éric Martic and Simon Tremblay-Pépin (2012) Do we really need to raise tuition fees?: Eight misleading arguments for the hikes. Institut de recherche et d’information socio-économiques (IRIS) p.3.

[2] This text is taken from the Stornoway website (viewed April 3, 2012).

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