Stealing from the poor to give to the rich

The University of Manitoba Board of Governors’ May 19, 2009 meeting saw the approval of the abolition of the 50 per cent course fee refund, effective September 2009. The previous policy allowed students to withdraw from a course and receive half their money back for up to two weeks after the registration revision period, which extends the first two weeks after courses start during regular session, and allows a student to explore, drop or switch courses without monetary penalty or the voluntary withdrawal (VW) being included on their transcript. The Board of Governors also passed changes affecting international students, that under “the [old] structure include[d] a $570 surcharge on a three credit-hour course, resulting in a fee of $810, and that under the proposed increase, that amount [has] increase[d] to $987.”

Students were notified of these fee schedule changes by an email to their U of M webmail account on July 13, 2009, however, many students were not aware of them during the fall 2009 semester. I personally conducted a survey three weeks after September classes started. I talked to 65 people, 51 were students at the U of M, five students at U of W, and nine non-students. Only 26 out of 51 U of M students heard of the policy change and of those, five people agreed with the course fee refund change. In total, 58 of 65 people surveyed answered “no” when asked: “Do you agree with the recent change from a 50 per cent course refund after the registration revision period to no refund after the revision period?”

Indeed, an overwhelming dissatisfaction with the policy change was evident among those I spoke with. Many people voiced concerns suggesting two weeks is not enough time to know if a particular course is what they want or what they can handle in their course schedule, especially for newcomers to university, and particularly when the first two weeks are usually review and slower-paced than the rest of the course. Others felt it was not fair to take only a couple weeks of a three-month course and not get any money back after dropping it.

One person suggested two weeks is more than enough time to know if you’re going to stick with the course and that you should either stay with the course or not enrol to begin with. Supporters of this policy change also included the claim it would free up space for students because if people knew that they wouldn’t get their money back they would likely not take the course and subsequently more space would be available to those who plan to complete the course. Whatever your logic, this amounts to an economic loss for any student who drops a course after the two-week revision period, and free money for U of M Administration to increase their salaries and operating budget of $487,161,820, a figure based on total revenue and expenditures for the year ending March 31, 2010.

A document provided to me through UMSU entitled “University of Manitoba Executive Salaries, 2003-2007” encompasses 12 executives salaries from 2001-08 and shows significant increases of between six to 18 per cent in compensation for the three-year period 2001-03. From 2001–08, the lowest executive salary has increased from $94,523.99 in 2005, to $127,067.69 in 2008. The University of Manitoba president’s salary in 2008 was $370,477.89. Of the 12 executives listed in the document, only five made under $200,000 in 2008. It is worth noting that the vice-president (academic and provost) benefitted in 2008 from a 12.5 per cent raise over their previous salary in 2007.

It is unreasonable for university executives to increase their compensation at the expense of students . . . in essence, stealing from the poor to give to the rich. They must first demonstrate their capability to balance budgets without increasing cost, even in the face of inflation. I want my money invested in such a way that costs are reduced over the long term rather than increased. This will have a net effect of generating cost savings which can be passed on to students. When enough money is saved, you executives can have your nine per cent yearly pay increases because good work deserves reward, but don’t you dare use my money to pad your pockets, until you demonstrate fiscal competence.

The only advice I can offer students outraged by this policy change is to get involved, back UMSU by volunteering, sit in on meetings and tell the administrative executives how you feel. Remind them that they work for you, and not the other way around. Your money pays their salaries! If they won’t use it in your best interests, then they don’t deserve any more of it.

Jeff Chorney has a BA, and is in his first year of environmental science at the U of M.