Clearing the air


After reading last issue’s commentary section and the campaign profiles, I felt compelled to respond to several things that were asserted throughout.

In Bart Soroka’s letter he points out that “There is no provision anywhere that Kyle or anyone else would get free meals at the Owl.”  He then points out that every dollar the Owl earns goes on to support student societies on campus. This is a good point, except that he fails to mention that each member of the URSU executive gets a 50 per cent discount on food at the Owl. Although the Owl has been managed efficiently over the past few years, no restaurant has a 50 per cent mark up between cost and profits. Consequently, every meal an URSU executive member eats at the Owl costs student societies money. As a board member, Bart should know that. 

That being said, there is a valid reason that URSU executive members get, and should continue to get, a discount at the Owl and a tuition rebate; namely, they are massively under paid. The year that I was URSU president I broke down the hours I worked, divided it by my gross monthly honorarium, and calculated that I was paid around $7.00 an hour. Being under paid has led some URSU executive members to get another job, which in my opinion is bad for the organization. It’s a privilege and an honour to serve on the URSU Executive, but you should not have to go broke doing it. 

Later in his article Mr. Soroka points out that “Lowering tuition is always a contentious issue when I bring it up around my [department] lounge (Economics).” As an alumnus of the U of R Economics department, I know what he is trying to get at here. The best argument against tuition freezes has nothing to do with quality of education. It is that if tuition fees are further subsidized it can be seen as a transfer of wealth via taxation from Saskatchewan taxpayers to students who will earn more income and have a higher net worth in the long run than the average tax payer.

My response to this article is, although I believe it’s true, it can be simply solved by ensuring that we have a progressive tax system that will reap higher tax revenues from those students who graduate and go on to earn higher income. Instead of making the stronger economic argument above, Barton then trots out an old trope about balancing affordability and quality, which is totally unproven.

I would ask him to provide evidence that would show that between 1991 and 2004 in Saskatchewan the quality of the education increased 227 per cent, which was the percentage increase of tuition in the province during that time period.

I would then ask him and any of his peers if they understood the meaning of a fully funded tuition freeze, which is what Saskatchewan had from 2004-2008. Simply put, it means that the provincial government increases the operating grants to Universities to their request levels.

Finally, since Mr. Soroka disagrees with tuition freezes, I would ask how he supports a province as rich as Saskatchewan having tuition costs that are on average $1,200 more than Manitoba and over $2,500 more than Newfoundland.

To put this into perspective, giving every post-secondary student in Saskatchewan completely free tuition would cost the provincial government no more than $150 million a year. This is less than the government committed in 2011 for increased spending on municipal infrastructure ($177 million), highway construction ($161.6 million), farm stabilization ($234.1 million), and income assistance programs ($321.3 million). Now, I am not saying that tuition fees should be free or that the other government-funded programs listed are unimportant; however, it is my opinion that tuition rates are too high in Saskatchewan. This causes 50 per cent of the province’s students to go into debt, which averages $25,000 when they graduate. One way to solve this issue in part would be for the province to again implement a fully-funded tuition freeze in order to maintain the quality of education while also increasing affordability. 

While one candidate has specifically singled me out for praise when it comes to fighting for tuition freezes, it should be noted that I do not support this candidate and have only ever met him on two occasions. I would like to set the record straight and put it out there that it was actually the work of a significant number of dedicated URSU and USSU Executive members over a five-year span that led to tuition freezes. It was the involvement of countless board members, students, and other supporters who rallied and signed petitions and got involved in the fight for affordable and accessible education. Furthermore, it involved a strong provincial lobby effort which eventually led the former NDP government, which had allowed tuition to increase significantly, to agree to student’s demands. The good news is that those efforts could be updated and replicated to ensure that students’ voices are heard loud and clear by the current Sask. Party government.

I would like to end this letter with a note about a debate I have heard going on around campus regarding partisanship with respect to URSU executive members. The URSU Constitution does state under Principles of the Student’s Union, that URSU is “To remain politically non-partisan in all activities and lobby efforts.” To me this does not mean that members of the URSU executive cannot be politically involved. In fact, excluding those who have been involved in partisan politics from taking part in URSU elections would not only violate their rights as members of URSU but also, and more importantly, would have seen the exclusion of several very strong URSU executive members who have served in the nearly ten years I have been on campus. Instead, I believe that this passage means that the organization of URSU must ensure that it does not support any one political party over another based on the political inclinations of members of the URSU Executive. Instead of criticizing candidates for their involvement in partisan politics, why not ask them how they would behave if they were elected?

Mike Burton

1 comment

  1. Craig 10 March, 2011 at 18:02

    Thanks for reminding people that the tuition freeze was backfilled by the provincial government, Mike. That little tidbit always seems to get lost in the shuffle. I can't imagine why an URSU candidate would spread utter falsehoods about the nature of the Saskatchewan tuition freeze.

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