Last we checked on a group who have now been dubbed the “Fight Fees 14,” they were loudly chanting “Shame on you!” to police officers because they were slightly annoyed over increasing residence fees at New College.
According to an online petition and press release, fourteen of the students are now facing criminal charges. After turning themselves in, the students were released under strict bail conditions that prevent them from associating, except in class or in court. The activists have interpreted this as an attempt to squelch free speech and political organization. Additionally, some members who were part of the group and are employed by the university have been banned from University property, and at least thirteen students are being investigated under the University’s Code of Student Conduct.
While the tactics may seem heavy-handed, the justification from the activists’ standpoint seems positively confusing. Sheila Hewlett, an organizer with the Committee for Just Education and an elected member of the Arts and Sciences Student Union said that: “We have to look at who is excluded when these unchecked fee increases compound and realize that education is increasingly not accessible to many. The student experience is at best one of debt servitude; at worst, education is completely unavailable to more and more people.”
What we can’t figure out is how residence fees are at all related to affordable education—the argument of “making education accessible” is pretty flimsy. While some may see living in residence at the quintessential university experience, this nostalgic feeling seems to be mostly borrowed from modern-era American coming-of-age films, and is really more suited to middle-of-nowhere college towns than a real city like Toronto. It took us a while to realize that living in residence had nothing to do with learning, and making it cheaper won’t improve your grades. You could live in two Annex apartments and eat twice as much food for the cost of eight months of U of T residence. Living in residence, for many students, is precisely the opposite of educational. By trapping themselves in residence, many students from outside the city miss the best thing about attending the University of Toronto: living in Toronto.
Naturally, the Committee for Just Education, which includes the students charged by police, have outlined the following demands: “Equal access to education through the elimination of all fees,” “That the U of T administration and Toronto Police immediately drop all proceedings against students and organizers and stop policing of dissent on campus,” and “Student, worker, and faculty parity on University decision-making bodies, including the Governing Council.”
The University released a statement yesterday.
Kevin Bracken is a student at the University of Toronto.
Photo by Edward Wong, courtesy of the ASSU.