Photo by Grant Holt
By Lilian Obeng
On Oct. 1, 2018 the McMaster Students Union released its annual University Budget Submission. The point of the document is to demonstrate that students pay attention to the university’s spending, and by extension, priorities. As per the university’s budget for the 2018-2019 academic year, our student contributions via our tuition fees account for approximately 47 per cent of the McMaster University’s available funds.
The stated purpose of the submission document is to provide university administration an outline on how to reallocate existing funds to support student interests.
Highlighted in the document are recommendations to increase funding for the MSU Emergency First Response Team and the Equity and Inclusion Office, hire an additional counsellor, release exam schedules earlier, provide more open educational resources, discontinue the outdated Pebblepad feature and request more environmentally sustainable practices at the university level. Also guiding the direction of the document were the budgets and purported spending of similar institutions across Ontario.
The spirit and purpose of the submission is sound, but what is frustrating is the lack of teeth contained within the document. It fails to address how the university actively spends money to the detriment of student life both on and off campus.
The best and most visible example of this is the exclusion of Security Services’ hiring of Hamilton’s ACTION squad to patrol student areas. McMaster spends student-provided funds to increase the policing of students. This not only presents a threat to marginalized students given the ACTION squad’s history of racial profiling, it means that students are being used as a quick cash grab by the city for minor, undisruptive bylaw offences.
Combined with the massive, ineffective and at times violent enforcement projects that take place during special occasions like Homecoming and St. Patrick’s Day, a considerable amount of money is not being disclosed to students by the university, and thus is excluded from the MSU’s advocacy efforts.
The submission is also decidedly limited in its recommendations to the university regarding financial accessibility. As with the MSU’s educational campaign, financial accessibility is only addressed through OERs and lowered textbook costs.
By all means, learning materials are increasingly expensive and certainly a place to look when attempting to reduce costs, but efforts should not stop there. To exclude topics such as tuition, and more concretely, scholarships and bursaries, is to fail to meaningfully address the sources of the financial burden placed on students.
Another area of concern are the institutions the submission document cites as inspiration like the University of Toronto. It must be stated that the university is a business, and some universities take that identity to the extreme detriment of students. Schools like University of Toronto are intent on privatization and intend to make that happen soon.
McMaster is a publicly funded school and will be for the foreseeable future; we as students should be wary of the unintended outcomes of ignoring the broader political context we inhabit, and inadvertently advocating for changes that harm future students.
The practice of developing documentation such as the university budget submission should continue. It provides professional development opportunities to students working within the MSU, allows students to participate in the creation of policy and demonstrates our organizing capacity and legitimacy to university stakeholders. We should take special care, however, to ensure that students are being properly communicated with, and that our advocacy is meaningful and concrete.