I’m hoping that my students skip class on February the second.
I’ll admit that this is an unusual statement for me, for though I don’t keep attendance sheets (too much work) I do notice when students aren’t in class. So help me, ill advised as it may be, I even take it personally sometimes. But Wednesday of this week will be an exception; Wednesday is the Nova Scotia-wide Student Day of Action to protest tuition hikes and looming budget cuts to education in this province.
I teach at a university that has the (somewhat misleading) reputation as one of the most expensive undergraduate degree in Canada. The pros and cons of tuition costs here at Dal were even addressed as a central portion of the new faculty orientation I attended last year. One of the central issues discussed was the declining number of Nova Scotians who are attending postsecondary schools. Now I'm no policy maker, and as I've mentioned numerous times I am relatively new to the region, so I can't profess expertise in understanding long term goals of institutions, or even population trends. But I am deeply troubled by the O'Neill report.
There are a lot of problems with university systems in general, no surprise there. No surprise that there’s a disconnect between bureaucrats and educators, either. There are many of my colleagues working in administrative capacities to make the university a more equitable and accessible place, and there are many of us classrooms employing consciousness-raising techniques as tools for teaching literary and social analysis. Often though it seems like an uphill battle, like the chasm between policy and practice is, well, huge.
So what must it feel like for students? I find myself wondering about how many students will attend the day of action; I worry that they might already feel alienated from the institution to which they, their families, or their futures will pay so much money. Especially here in the Maritimes where student debt is the highest in the country. Moreover, while tuition in Canada does not yet guarantee the decades of debt that an American degree almost inevitably ensures so many, do we really want to use that as an excuse not to speak out?
I'm going to take some time to let my students know about the Day of Action and encourage them to speak up on their own behalf. It is too easy to feel as though change is inaccessible. Too often I find myself being subsumed by that very sense of alienation that Marx outlined more than a century and a half ago. And there’s certainly no lack of evidence that universities are more than kissing cousins with corporations. All the more reason to create space for positive, critically engaged discourse. All the more reason to peacefully demand that one space designated for this discourse—the university—is not rendered inaccessible or inoperable.