On 20th May, 2009 the governing council at the University of Toronto voted yes to implement a flat fee payment structure in the Faculty of Arts and Science. Under this structure, students will pay for five courses, even if they are taking as few as three courses. This policy will be phased in gradually over the next three years and as of September 2011 all students who began their studies in September 2009 and are taking three to six courses will pay a flat fee. This is a 66% increase in tuition fees and for students unable to take five courses, it means thousands of dollars added to their student debt – without getting anything in return.
Meric Gertler, Dean of Arts and Sciences at U of T, has hailed the implementation of flat fees as an effective way of dealing with the Faculty’s $5 to $7 million dollar annual debt, noting that it will “provide a larger and more predictable revenue stream” – it is projected that net revenues generated will be between $9 and $10 million dollars. In reality, the introduction of flat fees is an attack on the living standards of already cash-strapped, over-burdened undergrads, and it is a warning to students at other universities that don’t already have flat fees of what lies ahead. This move is yet another way in which the capitalists are making students and workers bear the burden of a financial crisis they are not responsible for. According to The Sunshine List, Dean Gertler makes a salary of $268,190.33, while University of Toronto President Naylor makes $380,100.000. In addition, this year alone, the University has lost $1.4 billion dollars in risky investments. Imagine all the scholarships and improvements that could be created with all this money!
Student outrage over flat fees has been considerable. Since talks began this year about the possibility of implementing flat fees, there has been strong opposition. The University of Toronto Student Union (U.T.S.U.) and the Arts and Sciences Student Union (A.S.S.U) created the group “Stop Flat Fees in Arts & Science at U of T” – focused on organizing rallies and educating students about this policy. The group had a presence at both the Business Board meeting on April 27th and at the Governing Council meeting on May 20th. At the latter meeting, student protesters were met with dozens of police officers who blocked their access to the supposedly ‘open’ meeting.
It is clear that a more radical approach is needed. The CFS must organize students (both undergraduate and graduate) in a campaign for Free Education across all campuses. This struggle will not be successful if it is limited to individual universities: U of T students must connect with students at Ryerson and York to fight for Free Education in solidarity; what affects one, affects us all. Furthermore, it is important that our tactics include not only rallies, but student strikes and occupations. An example from recent history shows that radical student mobilization is effective. In 2005, a massive student movement in Quebec forced Jean Charest’s Liberal government to reverse the $103 million in cuts to a bursary program directed at students most in need. The student strikes were the biggest and longest in Quebec history, lasting 7 weeks and involving over 100,000 students from various universities. As a result, the average student debt in Quebec is the lowest in Canada at just over $13,000, compared to the national average of $24,047. This considerable success shows that students do have the power to make demands and enact change! It also highlights the importance of building solidarity amongst universities and fighting back together.
Moreover, it is vital that students and workers unite and support each other. Whether it be unpaid severance or the implementation of high tuition fees – the capitalists are determined to make the working class and students pay. The capitalists will stop at nothing to crush student and worker dissent, including enlisting the services of police officers. Therefore, we must be united and militant against these attacks on our access to education and decent working conditions!