Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Strike That!

H/T McGill Memes
Many campuses in Quebec are on "strike" and some departments at McGill are in strike. To be clear, the strikes involve students who are protesting an increase in tuition planned by the Quebec government after years and years and years of tuition freezes and then very modest increases.

Mrs. Spew is flummoxed.   Not that the students don't have something to complain about (she is more sympathetic than I), but that employees strike.  Students, on the other hand, are paying money (modest as it may be in Quebec right now) for their education and then some are saying--we will not partake of this thing for which we have paid.  So, a walk out: yes.  A strike?  Hmm.

For me this raises all kinds of issues to over-think.  My colleague, Jacob Levy, has been tweeting and otherwise discussing a basic problem at McGill: the students of the Faculty of Arts (for Americans, that would be the College of Arts) voted against a strike.  Some sub-units decided to have their own votes: English majors, Social Work (I think), Women's Studies (I think).  The French literature folks are also on strike, but I am not sure if their focus is on tuition or something else (we already know about my French skills).  Anyhow, Jacob raised the issue of the legitimacy of representation: who can say yes or no and the inconsistencies involved.

For me, I have a similar view, but as a scholar of separatism, I focus on how it tells us much about the problem of self-determination.  Who is the self that is entitled to vote on being self-governed?  The problem is, of course, of infinite divisibility.  I am, of course, taking perverse joy in seeing Quebec's political dynamics play out on this smaller stage: the refusal to take no for an answer; the willingness to pursue the smallest audience that will say yes, and so on.

Anyhow, I did have a pop quiz today.  I hope no English majors, Social work folks, Women's Studies students, etc. were harmed.

Meanwhile, we are getting daily notices from McGill about protests/marches/etc.  Since some of these have turned just a tad violent, I cannot complain too much about McG's defensiveness.  I do find the discussions to be lacking perspective, comparing the tuition battle to the civil rights movement, for instance.  But the students already lost a heap of support by blocking a major bridge (perhaps the only one on the south short that is not likely to collapse) during rush hour.  Attention might be good, but antagonizing everyone?  I think not.

I am addled by seemingly semi-daily drives to Ottawa to prep the move and by the pressures of twitterfightclub, so this may have rambled more than usual.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Okay, so it's not a strike, but no need to get bogged down by semantics (I guess). "Strike" is used symbolically - place students in line with so many subjugated proletarians, and all that.

Representation is certainly an issue - especially after the sorry excuse for a General Assembly two weeks ago - it took almost 4 hours to begin, and hundredsof students, if not thousands, just gave up and left. But it's not really clear to me how (if at all) this would have impacted the outcome.

Anyways, I think you're right that students are losing support and alienating themselves, but to my mind, both sides of the debate are fairly alienating. The opposition here at McGill seems to be relying on the notion that there is something that makes McGill special in contrast with other Montreal schools. Quite a few kids have made the argument to me "well if we don't raise tuition, then how can we keep our University's international prestige?" Which seems to come dangerously close to an appeal to "keep the rabble out of McGill" or something like that.

It's almost enough to make a girl support the "strike".