Virtually taking a stand
By Laura Koot
In the last month students from six Ontario universities have plunked themselves down in their presidents' offices to protest rising tuition. As of 9 a.m. today, Western too is staging a sit-in a virtual sit-in.
Rather than occupying Western president Paul Davenport's office, students can visit a website which will record their entry into the site and allow them to send a personalized message to Davenport's email address outlining the reasons for their protest.
In a letter sent to Davenport by the students' council this morning several demands were made of the administration. Among the demands were a tuition freeze with rates adjusted to the inflation rate, increased student representation on all Western's governing bodies to 30 per cent and a request for the president to denounce the use of new student loan programs as a mechanism for increasing tuition.
President of the USC, Dave Tompkins, said he expects at least 500 students will have joined the sit-in within a week and he expects some kind of response from the university. "A virtual tuition freeze would be unacceptable.
"I think we will demonstrate to Dr. Davenport that students feel very strongly about these issues and we are expecting more from him and his administration."
Western's associate VP-academic, Roma Harris, said she can understand why students are anxious about the tuition increase. "But in the face of inadequate funding we are left with little option," she explained.
Harris said the administration cannot operate the university without the necessary funds. "The object of the distress is decisions made by the provincial government."
Tompkins told council in last night's meeting that this protest brings about a lot of possibility. "You can have people from all over the world sitting in Paul Davenport's office." He encouraged councillors to have their friends and even their parents join the protest.
When the council's discussion turned to what results they are looking for, the VP-communications, Jerry Topolski, said they have to be realistic. "I can't see Dr. Davenport going for any of these [demands]."
Council then went into confidential for 50 minutes to discuss what they would accept as minimum concessions.
Tompkins would not reveal whether or not a physical protest will ensue if their demands are not met, but said he hopes to hear from Davenport early next week.
The eventuality of a protest next week is something Harris warned against because high school students and parents will be visiting campus. "It would be sending a signal that is not very welcoming and potentially damaging to the institution from which you will all be graduating."
She had more positive words about the virtual sit-in. "It will be an interesting experiment to see what support they get from students."