Last December, the Parti Québécois’ (PQ) provincial government asked universities in Quebec to retroactively cut $124 million from their budgets for the current financial year. This announcement would become the first in a slew of continuing budgetary constraints for higher education in the province amid a large-scale program of austerity. At McGill, the cuts were swiftly denounced by the administration who, earlier that year, had lobbied for higher tuition rates to alleviate the burden of the university system, which they continue to describe as underfunded.
To be sure, the provincial budget cuts in question are reprehensible and will undoubtedly affect the quality and access to education for students in Quebec. Furthermore, demanding universities to trim their expenses for an ongoing financial year is incredibly reckless, and it illuminates the hollowness of the government’s commitment to higher education.
The problem, however, lies in the way the administration is using these cuts to tailor their public relations strategy in favour of their political agenda. The PQ government and its cuts have become a scapegoat to further the argument of university underfunding: an argument university administrators – through CREPUQ, an organization that represents the administration of universities across Quebec, and its allies – have been espousing for years. The administration uses its abundant avenues of communication to victimize itself, and distract students and society from the issue at hand. Instead of trying to denounce austerity measures that affect education and society in the longer term, the University is using this opportunity to further their own message of privatization.
McGill’s argument is nothing new. Based on the dramatic tone of their recent MRO emails – let alone the McGill Reporter – the McGill administration would have us believe that these financial issues are both sudden and unique to McGill. What they’re not publicizing is that for years, McGill has been working towards relying less on federal and provincial funding and more on the private sector. One only has to look at how the Desautels MBA program was privatized in 2010. Contrary to the administration‘s rhetoric about the recent cuts, seeking out different sources of funding by adopting a private model, instead of relying on government funding, has long been McGill’s priority.
It is telling that for years prior to the recent cuts, McGill has been in a process of “streamlining” the University. Their focus on eliminating and consolidating labour at the University echoes the austerity measures imposed by the government. That the administration demonizes on-campus unions, and, in some cases, does not allow unionization among its workers is testament to the University’s push towards privatization.
As the University expands its media efforts, it has called on students to denounce the budget cuts, and has used student societies to publicly disseminate its views. For example, after McGill’s Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) passed a resolution supporting the view of university underfunding in Quebec, the McGill Reporter was quick to publish a news article, which was one of the few the publication has had on student councils this year. While the administration has been requesting widespread student support in opposing the PQ’s cuts, they were not at all supportive of students’ struggle for accessible education. Last spring, as hundreds of thousands of students were in the streets protesting against the tuition hikes, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum was lobbying for higher tuition through CREPUQ and its pals at the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and Quebec Employers Council.
Most members of the McGill community realize the negative impact of the provincial budget cuts and oppose them. Last December, after the cuts were announced, students attempted to enter a Board of Governors meeting to ask the administration to join them in strike against the cuts. The administration, however, refused to do so and continued to complain about them through their blogs, emails, and publications. The University needs to join its students and denounce the cuts for what they are, instead of opportunistically co-opting them.
— The McGill Daily Editorial Board