Guelph Students Mourn Course Cuts

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

  • Tears shed at the funeral.

    Tears shed at the funeral.

  • Funeral procession through the University Centre.

    Funeral procession through the University Centre.

  • Brenda Whiteside emerged to dismiss protestors.

    Brenda Whiteside emerged to dismiss protestors.

  • Administrative staff attempted to hide behind cubicle walls.

    Administrative staff attempted to hide behind cubicle walls.

  • The funeral march continued through the snow, to Johnston Green.

    The funeral march continued through the snow, to Johnston Green.

Written by Pegleess Barrios

It was with heavy hearts that students united to mourn and protest the loss of several courses at the University of Guelph.

A funeral service was held at the University Centre, with musicians and several speakers, in memory of the courses cut in a September 17 and October 1 meeting of the Board of Undergraduate Studies:

WMST 3000 – Feminist Theory and Methods 
WMST 3010 – Gender and Diversity
WMST 4010 – Seminar in Women’s Studies
GERM 2560 – Themes in German Literature
ITAL 3200 – Novels of Resistance
ITAL 3950 – Topics in Italian Literature
ITAL 3960 – Topics in Italian Literature
ITAL 3970 – Topics in Italian Literature
HIST 4680 – Urban America
ARTH 3100 - Perspectives, Structure and Space in Western Art 
ARTH 4850 - Honours Thesis l
ARTH 4860 - Honours Thesis ll 
FREN 1120 - Basic French: Writing 
ENVS 3070 – Environmental Soil Chemistry
ENVS 3110 – Resource Planning techniques
ENVS 3120 – Land Utilization
ENVS 3130 – Lab and Field Methods in Groundwater
ENVS 3280 – Environmental Perspectives and Human Choices 11
ENVS 4250 – Soils in the Landscape
Math 2170 - Differential Equations
PHYS 1000 - An Introduction to Mechanics

As stated by the organizers, "these invaluable programs have suffered from chronic underfunding, and more recently have been targeted by a ruthless program prioritization process that values the income-generating potential of programs over their social and intellectual worth." Students expressed frustrations at what they deemed to be a threat to the comprehensivity of their education, and the reputation of the University of Guelph.

The cost of a university degree in Canada is only getting steeper, with tuition and other fees forecasted to have approximately tripled from 1990 to 2017 (inflation considered), and students in Ontario are paying most, according to research by a policy think-tank.

Fees in current dollars have increased from $1,464 in 1990 to $6,348 on average, and expected to climb to $7,437 by 2016. On top of that, undergraduates in Ontario hold the record over the past 20 years for the lowest per-student funding, with its average education capital reserve around 24 per cent below the national average. Additionally, international students and students in certain programs, such as Commerce, are forced to pay a much higher tuition rate.

As CFS president stated in an interview with The Varsity, “[T]here is a very negative ripple effect of tuition fee increases that damages not only individual prospects, but the economic health of our communities.” Students, aware of the debt loads they are taking on, and the long-term ramifications of this for themselves and their families, were upset to hear that courses had been taken away from them that could benefit their education and potentially lead to future careers. A sentiment echoed among the students in attendance at the funeral was that considering the amount they are paying for their tuition, they felt they should be receiving more class options and smaller classes, rather than less class options and much larger classes.

"And we are outraged with the process. Students and faculty were not consulted. Things that are important to our experience of university were not considered. And each year, tuition rises by $200 or $300," said Sonia Schwalek, Communications and Corporate Affairs Commissioner at the CSA.

As Sonali Menezes added in her speech, student debt in Canada goes up $1,000,000 per day. Referring to the controversial Program Prioritization  Process (PPP), Menezes stated that students shoulder this load with the idea that they are going to receive a high quality education – not a bigger parking lot, as the prioritization process had deemed as one of Guelph’s top potential money-making intiative, and prioritized over several actual academic programs for funding.

“I remember when I first came here,” said Menezes to the cheering crowd. “I thought Guelph was so beautiful. Isn’t it beautiful? Because that is where all our money is going!”

As Janice Folk-Dawson, president of CUPE 1334 added, the cuts have affected maintenance, trades, and service workers. Thanks to the budget cuts, they now have a smaller workforce to deal with an increasing amount of buildings and installations. Furthermore, Guelph pays its summer maintenance workers - often students - a much smaller salary than similar employers in the area.

As advertised on www.recruitguelph.ca last summer, the University of Guelph only offered minimum wage to maintenance workers doing basic landscaping, trash and gardening duties, as opposed to other advertised firms in Guelph which offered on average $18 per hour, but often up to $24 per hour. These students are then expected to use their small gains to pay ever-increasing tuition and growing OSAP debts.

Vice-president of CUPE 3920, Natash Diennes, spoke of the ramifications of the cuts for classes that will still be offered. According to Diennes, the cuts mean larger classes, more online courses, and less personal access to professors and teaching assistants.

Veronica Majewski, a graduate student in philosophy, spoke about her experience with cuts to her program when she was in her undergraduate degree. "This is the second time I will bury women's studies," she said. "I was here five years ago when the course was cut, and I'm here again today."

The speakers mentioned that the PPP had only involved two students, who had been specifically instructed not to represent the student perspective, and instead respond as objectively as possible.

“Students are being stranded in the middle of their degrees as programs dissolve while tuition fees rise," said Menezes. Another speaker commented on this, saying that so many courses had been cut from certain programs that it is now impossible to complete the full degree at the University of Guelph.

A procession followed, and students carrying handmade caskets and tombstones with the names of the cut courses walked through the administrative offices at the University Centre, accompanied by University of Guelph student Aidan Maher on bagpipes. Many administrative workers were not only surprised to see students protesting in their offices, but additionally surprised to find out that any cuts had been made.

Brenda Whiteside, Associate VP of Student Affairs, peeked out of her office with a furrowed brow and perplexed expression, and asked if protestors could “just come another day.” Other administrative workers attempted to hide behind doors or watch from cubicle opening, as the bagpipes blared and approximately 100 students with veils and posters passed through. A few expressed their support of the protests.

The procession continued outdoors to Johnston Green, through  wind and snow, where the silent protestors began to chant. Students passing by appeared confused by the protest, and many appeared to be unaware that any courses had been cut.

A feeling of hopelessness was shared among many protestors, some saying the University of Guelph community is too apathetic for them to engage enough people to really create change, others saying that the administration would never listen to students no matter how many protests they have. However, many were heartened to hear past stories of success from speakers at the funeral, such as the rescue of the organic agriculture program. And as Majewski said in her public address, “A lot of the time we lose. But sometimes, we win.” Students will continue to fight to protect their programs from the $25.4 million of cuts expected over the next three years.

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