On Wednesday, March 28, I attended the President’s Forum in ECHA 2-490 and never in my life have I been more disappointed by my own generation.
I like to joke a lot about being ashamed of being a millennial for many reasons, including the direction that pop music has taken, television, and the constant attachment to the internet. On Wednesday, however, it was a more visceral letdown.
For anybody who does not know the hot topic of the forum, U of A President David Turpin was explaining the March 16 Board of Governors vote on the university budget. The implication of this was that a majority of the meeting was, inherently, going to be him breaking down the numbers for the audience. The problem came from popular dissatisfaction with the budget and the way it is affecting the students. Specifically, the international tuition increase, the Lister meal plan and the raising of rent in residence. The unrest amongst the crowd about the budget in and of itself would have been okay, except that my generation let us down by not adhering to any degree of professionalism or maturity.
Firstly, they made the mistake of assuming that this was about them. None of the events on Wednesday were about them, they were meant to inform everyone. The forum was not an opportunity to try out your first protest, it was an opportunity for the other side to explain. There is a give and take aspect to effecting change, and yelling and interrupting someone while it is their turn to speak does not help your cause. I have heard the argument that he was not answering the question, but quite frankly this not true. Undeniably, the president was answering using long-winded explanations, but this would not be an issue if they had requested for a second meeting that, rather than a forum, was actually more of a town hall style. This brings me to my second point.
A forum is not the time to bombard the man with questions. To answer the questions that the students wanted him to answer, there would need to be a minimum of three hours. This allows the president to answer in whatever way he feels necessary, but ultimately, he can’t run out the clock in this meeting. That is why after his presentation, not interrupting halfway through, there should have been a formal request made for a second event in which all students would be given equal opportunity to ask their questions. This brings me to my third point.
The problem with grassroots movements like this is that they lack leadership. When you have a diverse group of people all shouting for change, all you can hear is a lot of people yelling. The first step that the people who wish to protest this budget should have taken is designating a leader. The best-spoken person at the forum was Marina Banister, our Student Union president. When she stood up, she very clearly announced the position that the Student Union, the Non-Academic Staff Association, the Graduate Students’ Association, Post-Doctoral Fellows Association and the Association of Academic Staff at the University of Alberta are united in firm opposition to the budget. Here we saw one person speak for many groups of people in one unified voice, and its impact was undeniable. If the students who are protesting this budget do not absorb and incorporate the wisdom practiced by these professionals, the best they can hope for is to continue to make noise.