The TA strikes in a broader context

The world is the cave, and we are its willing captives./ Brett Nielsen

The world is the cave, and we are its willing captives./ Brett Nielsen

This is definitely a case where the mirror holds the responsible party.

The most important news story to come out of Canadian academic world in the last few weeks has been the teaching assistant strikes at the University of Toronto and York University. These protests, though dealing with the specific issues facing those campuses and unions, are symbolic of a larger illness that has spread throughout both academia and Canadian society.

This may seem like an exaggeration, but it is not. A cursory glance at the situation that saw TAs striking for higher living wages may reveal an elementary understanding that this is an issue of students and faculty vs. administration, union vs. managers, good guys vs. bad. This could not be further from the truth, as the real cause of these current challenges facing universities is us – students, TAs, professors, and Canadian citizens in general.

It would be much too easy, and it would be a facile statement, to simply demonize the administration. Because of its undemanding nature, many hurl blame at administrators to make themselves feel like they’re making a change, that they really have done a good day’s work to help improve their institution. It’s not the administration that’s necessarily to blame. Look at it from their standpoint: lower budgets, more students, more expectations of universities, and rapidly changing times with facile but vocal criticism that spreads over social media like wildfire. What are they supposed to do?

It’s the government handing down the provincial budget that’s to blame. Yet, even that is too easy. Voters give politicians their mandate, and although there are other influencing factors politically, a democratic upsurge and interest in more post-secondary funding in this province would have parties catering to those demands. If students and faculty at both the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina used their ballot (also, democracy should be a daily process, not just one day every four years) universities would not be in such dire straights they are today.

The social media fracas that Alberta Premier Jim Prentice raised by telling Albertans to “look into the mirror” to find who is responsible for the current financial fiasco is probably the healthiest democratic expression in Wild Rose Country since 1971, the year the ruling Progressive Conservatives took office 44 years ago. Who elected them?

Instead of constant misdirected criticism, it’s better for democratic citizens to take responsibility for the politicians we elect and the decisions they make. If Canada did this, universities may be better funded, our civil liberates may not about to be tarnished, and perhaps federal politicians like Trudeau wouldn’t tell university students what has and doesn’t have a place on our campuses (he also supports Bill C-51, by the way).

Criticize Harper, thank Obama, and blame Vianne Timmons; but don’t dare look in the mirror as an ancient institution erodes around us.

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