Commentary | Hyde Park: PGSS stabbed us in the back while we were drunk on Obama

On the night of November 4, a large number of graduate students gathered at the Thomson House to witness the most historic moment in their life: a U.S. President who is not only the first African American, but also the first to mobilize millions of people and give them hope in the world filled with turbulence. That night, the myth that Americans are apathetic and deserving of the disasters brought about by the Bush administration was swept into the dust bin of history.

Amidst all the joy, the next day the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) approved a tuition fee increase proposed by the administration.

A wise man once said to me that it is easier to stab someone when their hands are up in the air in celebration and that is exactly what PGSS did: increase graduate student tuition fees when we were all still drunk in celebration.

Now, PGSS will say they’re not increasing tuition fees, only the ancillary or student service fee. Let us not be fooled by this petty wording designed to soften the blow of an increasingly expensive education. Whatever you want to call this fee – a banana fee, a gorilla fee – students still need to pay it. To break this “newsspeak,” I am going to refer all these fees to what it actually is: tuition.

The tuition fee increase amounts to $10 per semester. While this seems small and inconsequential, it has a far-reaching effect and sets a bad precedent.

The justification for this increase is that it is needed to increase student services. I am all for better services and better quality of education. However, the logic of the following question and answer, “Do you want a better education? If you do, then you have to pay more” succumbs to the idea that education and all its services is a commodity available only to those who can afford it. Once PGSS agrees that students need to pay for increased service, then there is nothing to stop them to agree that students need to pay more for better education – more qualified teachers, smaller classrooms, etc.

We all understand that education costs money and that McGill is chronically underfunded. However, instead of calling the government to invest more in the education system, the administration chooses to unload this burden onto students. Thus, in approving the increase, PGSS Council and execs help the administration lift these underfunding boulders onto the backs of the graduate students they claim to represent.

By rejecting this proposal, PGSS could have sent a message to the University and the government that they have to invest more in the education system. But by accepting this increase, PGSS sent a different message: it’s okay if you underfund the education system because we’ll help you increase tuition fees.

This is also true for The Daily and SSMU, who shamefully endorsed the $10 tuition fee increase in the coming referendum. They are playing into the hands of the administration and their actions undermine the whole concept of accessible education.

The Obama-moment will come to McGill when thousands of students will mobilize and shake all these organizations to their core, replacing it with leadership worthy of its name. This may happen sooner than later.

Ted Sprague is Master’s II Chemistry student. He can be reached at ted_sprague@yahoo.com.


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