Opinion: The YES campaign on CFS membership

Friday, April 2, 2010


Written by Dave Molenhuis

This may come as a shock, but presidents of universities talk to each other.

In fact, they meet regularly, compare notes and share strategies for campaigns they want to undertake—like changing programs or creating new sector-wide policies.

Sometimes, when senior administrators get together, they make plans that are generally opposed by students. To figure out how to implement these campaigns, they look at how students have reacted at other campuses to similar changes. And when students oppose a policy change, such as a reduction in student space or fee increases, they look to see how similar policies were opposed on other campuses.

Students meet at this level too. The way this is done is through the Canadian Federation of Students, Canada's largest and oldest national student organization. It is through our Federation that students are able to respond to decisions made by administrators and democratically decide on and push for wide-ranging positive changes that suit our interests and needs.

Recently, when Guelph’s administration made budget cuts, they unfairly targeted Women’s Studies. Students were opposed to these cuts and had different ideas for addressing the institution’s financial needs. To respond, students launched a campaign, and through the Federation they made connections with other campuses that faced similar cuts to push back and find alternatives other campuses were using to address these issues.

The campaign against program cuts was not isolated to Guelph. Students fought similar campaigns at Queen’s, the University of Ottawa and the University of Toronto. Through the Federation, students at each campus were able to network and collectively resolve to strengthen and expand their campaign. The Federation was the only student organization that spoke out against program cuts and helped to coordinate a solidarity campaign with other students’ unions who were not only facing similar situations, but who were concerned about the situation at Guelph.

This happened because none of our struggles as students are isolated. University underfunding is a policy set by the Ontario government, influenced directly by size of transfer payments sent by the Federal government. Like the Council of Ontario Universities, that represents Guelph senior administrators, and the Canadian Association of University Teachers that represents Guelph faculty, the Canadian Federation of Students helps to unite peoples’ voices to advocate for change in government decisions at both the provincial and federal levels.

Students have strong public support for their demands. More than 90 percent of Ontarians believe that tuition fees are too high. If Guelph students are going to have any hope in pressuring the government into capitalizing on such public support, they are going to have to work with other students. Without resources in Ottawa or Toronto and without regular meetings with government decision-makers, students at Guelph will not be able to add their voice to the broader movement. Guelph students have those resources through membership in the Federation.
 Together, with students from St. John’s to Nanaimo we can advocate for a system of higher education that all students can access, regardless of their financial standing. We can fight to make our campuses more accessible for all.

System-wide change is not going to happen only by working internally on our own campuses. Just because bottled water is phased out at one campus does not mean the industry will change its ways. Students need to work together to change the system itself, so that bottled water sales stop at all campuses. Students need to work together to ensure that no orientation shirts are made in sweatshops, not just the ones worn at Guelph. Real change will only happen if we unite with students across Canada, and the only progressive student voice engaged in this work is the Canadian Federation of Students.

If you think that Guelph students need to be part of the campaign to improve the lives of all students, you should vote yes to remain a member of the Federation.

Working together gets results. Together, students have been able to make post-secondary education a priority of the current Ontario government, resulting in an additional $310 million investment into the sector for 2010-11. Nationally, students were able to access the first-ever national system of needs-based grants, a victory of the Federation’s nation-wide Grants not Loans campaign in the fall of 2009.
We also worked together to gather information that has formed ground-breaking reports, like the Task Force on the Needs of Muslim Students in 2006, and the Task Force on Campus Racism. Together, these documents help students identify ways in which to fight against oppression in our classrooms and on our campuses. If working together benefits our professors and university presidents, then it will benefit students as well. If students are going to have any say at all, we must remain united with students across Ontario and Canada through the Canadian Federation of Students.

Dave Molenhuis is the Treasurer for the Canadian Federation of Students.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question

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  1. Posted by: Kaley on Apr 4, 2010 @ 10:12am

    I just want to say that the work that the work of the Canadian Federation of Students - Ontario has been super inspiring for me as a student activist in Nova Scotia, which has a much smaller student population. The example of the task force on racism, for example, has been helpful for students here out east, and the Report from the Task Force on the Needs of Muslim students led to some students' unions fighting for prayer space on campuses here.

    Good work!

  2. Posted by: Evan Bell on Apr 4, 2010 @ 6:55pm

    That is great to hear but we need to look at what will be better for the majority of students not what is best for the most vocal ones. The CFS has done little to make their presence known around campus before assaulting us with clipboards for several days, so what's with bringing us to court, why do they suddenly care about UoG now?
    I think that each university has its strengths and weaknesses, Guelph's I would argue is sustainability and eco-mindedness, not social revolution. The budget and programs cuts are not welcome around campus, but they were necessary. For such a small amount of people to be directly affected (I saw maybe thirty people out protesting this budget cut) although the majority of campus knew about the cut, I would argue that the majority didn't care. Whether they weren't involved enough to know, or they are in a program where they never had to go near Women's Studies, the majority still felt that it was acceptable. We kept to our strengths and I respect them for that.
    To use this as such a large argument why the students of UoG should vote YES, is a bit weak. I am still open to hearing both sides but I want to hear something that would attract a normal student to your cause because right now I am hearing a lot of stuff about the CFS helping small groups which represent a minuscule fraction of students around campus and am no where near convinced.

  3. Posted by: on Apr 4, 2010 @ 8:10pm

    The problem with using examples from anywhere other than Guelph is that those places aren't Guelph. They don't have the same problems, issues, needs, goals, etc. Guelph needs to do what is best for Guelph. And it has to be Guelphites who decide that for themselves. Our students need to be made clearly aware of all the issues and then make an educated decision. Whatever that decision may be, both sides need to be good sports and abide by the decision made by the people, for the people.
    Also, Women Studies may be gone as a major, but the courses are still around. I'm even required to take some for my major!

  4. Posted by: on Apr 5, 2010 @ 3:28pm

    Vote No. Other majors are also ending, and I was forced to switch, but its alright, because new programs also opened, and the most of the same courses are still available. I don't need the CFS to sue my student government.

  5. Posted by: CH on Apr 6, 2010 @ 8:49am

    What a terrible article. The major is gone, the courses are still here and wait...no–are we? OH YES! We are still in Guelph! and no where else. So people, pay attention: vote NO! Who is getting openly discriminated against in Guelph? You guys pony up the cash to belong to this legitimized mafia demanding money to be a part of its federation!

  6. Posted by: on Apr 6, 2010 @ 1:02pm

    What a terrible comment. So petty and immature. $7 is such a ton of cash... do you even know what else you are paying for in your student fees? CFS is hardly taking anything compared with some of the other fees we pay.

    I agree with K. Bonis said above: "The problem with using examples from anywhere other than Guelph is that those places aren't Guelph. They don't have the same problems, issues, needs, goals, etc." At the same time, so many people are in support of the no side simply based on what the CSA has said. They need to look into the information for themselves. The CSA's information is going to be biased.

    I feel that too many people are jumping on the "No" band wagon without doing any research, because they are being fed specific information about money issues, and nothing else, and they are touting this half-information on to others. Be informed, try and understand both sides of the issue before making immature and derogatory comments that just parrot information that someone else told you. Confirm the truth for yourself instead of spreading what unsubstantiated things you've been told.

  7. Posted by: on Apr 6, 2010 @ 7:22pm

    The one thing that really bothers me is that the CFS tried to legally bar Guelph from leaving. That swings what might have been a neutral attitude towards a "No" attitude. If Guelph is going to be a member of the CFS it should be because we want to be, not because we are forced to be.

  8. Posted by: on Apr 6, 2010 @ 7:38pm

    The real question is "What are we paying the CFS to do?"

    I think the answer is that we are paying them to lower student fees. We aren't paying them to support Nova Scotian student activists. Are they doing the job we are paying them to do well?

  9. Posted by: SandyAnger on Apr 7, 2010 @ 6:58am

    I keep reading condescending comments about how people should be researching the facts before deciding what they're voting, trying to convince people of their opinion, etc. yet, by being here reading this that's is either what they have done or are in the process of doing, no?

    I've also noticed that they poll on the right side of the page has the exact same number of votes on the YES page as the NO page. That would make me assume that people are reading up on both sides. If you have a valid point, make it, and stop condemning people for doing their research.

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