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There has been a sharp and sudden shift in mood among students at the University of Alberta. For the first time in recent memory, perhaps even in a decade, protests have erupted on campus. Students mobilized in great numbers to oppose the administration’s decision to increase tuition for international students by 3.14 per cent, residence rent by four per cent, and implement a mandatory meal plan that would result in a massive increase in fees for students. The two latter measures have priced some students out of living in on-campus residency.

The protest movement, organized by the International Students’ Association (ISA) and the Lister Hall Students’ Association (LHSA), began on March 14th. Hundreds of students flooded the Lister cafeteria demanding the Board of Governors scrap the proposed fee increases. The anger displayed by the students is not only limited toward these fee increases, but also toward the administration’s blatant disregard for student voices. In a survey conducted by the University of Alberta Students' Union, 93 per cent of students did not support the proposed meal plan, but their concerns fell on a deaf ears. “We are here because we want the university to listen to us. We are here because we are sick of being bled dry. We are here because students do not support the meal plan. We are here because students do not support international tuition increases,” said Jordan Simao, one of the speakers at the protest.   

Disregarding this protest, on Friday, March 16th, the Board of Governors went ahead and approved the 3.14 per cent increase in tuition for international students, four per cent rise for on-campus residence rent, and 15.8 per cent increase for students’ mandatory meal plans. With this tuition increase, international students will pay an estimated $23,812.28 in tuition and non-instructional fees per year. The mandatory meal plan will cost students $4999 for eight months - an increase of $682.

In response to students’ concerns, the administration planned a town hall meeting with university President David Turpin on March 28th. Students immediately seized this opportunity to turn this town hall into what effectively became a rally. Days before the town hall, a rank-and-file campaign developed with posters calling students to flood the town hall to voice their opposition to the administration’s decision appearing all over the university and on social media. These posters offended the administration so much that the university’s provost and vice-president Steven Dew decided to take matters into his own hands, tearing down the posters himself. This only added fuel to the fire.  

On March 28th, hundreds of students showed up to the town hall meeting. The town hall was set to be an hour long but when the agenda was presented, only ten minutes were reserved for questions from the audience. The presentation itself was largely a banal description of the proposed university budget with accompanying charts and statistics. Attendees quickly became restless as they felt their concerns were not being addressed. “When are you going to let us talk?” shouted someone from the audience, followed by cheering and applause from the students. About halfway through the presentation, the tension in the crowd was too much to hold back. Students chanted and heckled the president through his condescending presentation. When pressed for answers, President Turpin (who is paid over $800,000 per year, but referred to himself as a “volunteer,”) dodged questions, and attempted to run out the clock with empty, flowery distractions, such as telling students about his life story. 

Meanwhile, overflow viewing for the town hall was booked by the administration, hidden away in a classroom. However, representatives from the Student Union urged students to form a crowd outside, where their voices could be heard. They projected a livestream outside the town hall, and as a result, administration was unable to hide the widespread dissent behind closed doors.

Frustrated students at the town hall poured out to join the crowd amassed outside. Turpin was greeted by chants and banners: “U of A, not okay”; “Whose university? Our university”; and “eat your plan.” The crowd followed Turpin, who was accompanied by several Peace Officers, through the Edmonton Health Clinic Academy and across campus as he retreated to his office. Students remained in front of his office, banging on the walls and doors and continued chanting, demanding that he address them. Posters were plastered on walls outside the office and over portraits of former presidents.

After roughly an hour of this continued pressure, the President of the Student Union and a member of the Board of Governors, Marina Banister, addressed the crowd. She reported that a scheduled meeting of the Board of Governors had been cancelled. Banister encouraged students to stay and continue chanting, as well as urging them to keep the momentum going by flooding social media. Meanwhile, Turpin was escorted out of the premise in a police car.

Fight for free education and democratic control of the university!

Socialist Fightback Students at the University of Alberta stands in solidarity with students and workers fighting against these attacks. We oppose any increase in tuition and student fees which will only make education less accessible. We are fighting for free quality education for all. There is no reason why we cannot eliminate tuition fees: there is enough wealth in society to ensure free education for everyone. Instead billions of dollars are spent on jets and battleships, perks for corporations, or is stashed away in Panama through various tax dodging schemes.

Our activists at the rally received a warm response to this demand and we will continue fighting for the movement at the University of Alberta to take up the demand of free education as a central demand in the struggle.

It has become clear that the overpaid high-level administrators like president David Turpin and vice-president Steven Dew are disconnected from the students and the university community at large. These individuals and the majority of the Board of Governors are practically self-appointed through a mechanism that is not at all accountable to the larger university community. They claim to serve the public good, but the public has no say. It is now time to fight for an elected board of governors, made up of representatives from the students, faculty, staff, and local community, that are revocable at any moment. This is the only way that the voices and needs of students, faculty, and the public can actually be addressed and dealt with fairly.

What way forward for the movement?

The leaders of the University of Alberta Students' Union has made their position abundantly clear. They are opposed to cuts that affect students negatively. The Academic Staff, and Non-Academic Staff Associations have also made it clear that they oppose funding and staffing cuts. But this is not enough!

It is clear that the University of Alberta administration has no intention of listening to the demands of the students. Turpin and those like him would rather continue to line their own pockets while pushing cuts against students and workers on campus and cowardly hiding away in their offices.

We therefore call on our student union and worker associations on campus to put their resources and organizational power into a massive campaign of grassroots mobilizations leading up to a campus-wide demonstration against Turpin’s cuts. General assemblies and rank-and-file mobilization committees should be struck so that students and workers can democratically decide the future of the movement. While Turpin and his clique control the university through undemocratic bodies like the BoG, we, are the ones who make UofA function. We must continue mobilizations against Turpin and the BoG with the perspective of launching a 1-day strike if they will not give in to our demands.

Free education for all! No to fee and rent increases!

Affordable and quality food services!

Real democracy now! Remove the unelected board of governors!

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