Note: This article was supposed to be published in the next Basics Community Newsletter, but unfortunately because of some misunderstandings was unable to make it. So I’ve published it here in full.
On Thursday March 20, over forty students and allies staged a sit-in at the University of Toronto administrationâ€™s offices to protest against increases in student fees. The peaceful protest was met with physical aggression by campus police on the orders of senior university administrators. Undeterred, students and allies formed the Committee for Just Education and organized an emergency rally on March 25 to continue protesting fees. On April 7, they held an open forum on fees and staged another rally on April 10 to protest fees.
Charging fees for university and college is one way to keep the working-class and the poor in check. Although the government discusses grants and loans, these are either hard to come by or add up to huge debt-loads after graduation. Students then become â€œindentured servantsâ€ — working to pay off loans while also trying to maintain a life. But free education is a possibility. Cuba, Ireland, Sweden, Finland and many other countries around the world offer free education at all stages. Others, like Venezuela, are moving toward free higher education.
Free education is something that working-classes and their allies have fought for over the past centuries in various countries. These were not gracious policies of the ruling classes, but like health care, the eight-hour working day, and the weekend, are the products of struggle. The students and organizers at UofT are attempting to continue in this tradition of struggle.
But UofTâ€™s administration responded in the most authoritarian way. First, the administration is investigating students under the Code of Student Conduct, which could lead to sanctions including suspension and expulsion. Then, for the first time in over 35 years, they selected 14 students and organizers and got Toronto Police to press criminal charges against them for alleged involvement in the sit-in on March 20. The â€œFight Fees 14â€ were arrested over one month after the events and were released on restrictive bail conditions that prevent their associating with one another, and ban them from UofT property except for classes. One student organizer was in custody overnight, and others were held for unusually long periods of time.
This repression of dissent comes at a time when universities are moving toward increasing privatization and commercialization to intensify serving the needs of corporations and industries, instead of serving the public good. Increasing student fees contributes to the university itself operating like a private corporation instead of a public institution. When students and others protest against this agenda of corporatization, they are met with tremendous repression. At the University of British Columbia, 19 students were arrested on April 4 for opposing the commercialization of campus space, and other universities are introducing or revising Student Codes of Conduct.
We must act now to make the university accountable and accessible to our communities. Please visit www.fightfees.ca and e-mail email@example.com to learn more about joining the struggle against student fees and helping the Fight Fees 14.