Fanshawe student walkout a bust

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: ANGELA MCINNES
Fanshawe students did not participate in a March 20 province-wide walkout against tuition cuts, due to a lack of social media promotion and support from the Fanshawe Student Union (FSU).

Hundreds of college and university students across Ontario walked out of classes on March 20 to protest the Ford government’s changes to post-secondary funding.

Over 17 campuses reportedly took part in the walkout, organized by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

However, it was business as usual for Fanshawe College.

A Facebook event page posted beforehand by local political organization, London Student Coalition, said that a Fanshawe walkout was scheduled for March 20 at noon to coincide with other participating schools. Its location was set for the Oasis seating area in the Student Centre at the Oxford Street campus. Under 40 Facebook users indicated their interest in the event, while 16 marked they would be “attending”.

On the day of, there was no walkout to be seen at the appointed time and place.

Darryl Bedford, president of Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 110 (the Fanshawe College Faculty Union), told Interrobang that while OPSEU supported the London Student Coalition and the CFS, there had been challenges in helping the London Student Coalition promote the Fanshawe walkout to students over social media. He said that while a few labour allies had made an appearance, students were entirely absent.

“The Facebook event didn’t make it to Fanshawe students because the FSU [Fanshawe Student Union] didn’t promote it,” Bedford said.

Bedford said the faculty union hesitated to promote the walkout itself because that meant asking students to step out of its members’ classes.

He added that he was confident the administration and Local 110’s members would have been sympathetic to students leaving to protest, if there had been “proper arrangements”.

The province-wide walkout demonstrated students’ reactions to a 10 per cent tuition reduction for the 2019-20 academic year that will lead to a loss of about $360 million in funding for universities, and $80 million for colleges.

Fanshawe College is set to lose approximately $4 million in the 2019-20 fiscal year when the reduction takes effect in September, and $5.2 million in the entire 2020-21 fiscal year.

The walkout also criticized changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) such as the elimination of the six-month grace repayment period, along with free tuition for low-income students.

Despite the failure of Fanshawe’s scheduled walkout, Bedford said he has already had success in gathering 350 Fanshawe student signatures in a petition to reverse the OSAP cuts and changes, addressed to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

“If you want to make a change, the only way to do it is to get the message out, whether that’s letters, whether that protests,” he said. “I think this government will feel the heat.”

Bedford said he has also reached out to FSU to ask how Local 110 can support its strategy in addressing the OSAP changes and the Student Choice Initiative, which allows students to opt out of paying fees for student union services deemed “non-essential” by the Ontario government.

When asked why the FSU did not promote the walkout, student union president Jahmoyia Smith said that doing so would have been counterproductive.

“If you’re advocating for more tuition and an easier system of accessing funding for education, why jeopardize a full day of classes,”

Smith said. “We do encourage students to exercise their rights, a hundred per cent, but we didn’t support students walking out of class, hence why we didn’t promote it.” Smith said that in terms of a strategy, the FSU is working to create a functional funding model for the start of the 2019-20 academic year.

“We are advocating for students on the backline,” she said. “We are really pushing for students to have good funding with both OSAP and the ancillary fees and are working hard behind the scenes.”