A caravan of honking cars made their way from the University of Alberta’s south campus to the Alberta Legislature in protest against provincial cuts to post-secondary funding.
Meeting at south campus to decorate their cars and bikes with signs, garlands, and even balloons, administrative staff, professors, and students gathered to participate in a car caravan protesting provincial cuts to post-secondary funding. The caravan was organized by the Non-Academic Staff Association (NASA) and the Association of Academic Staff University of Alberta (AASUA) in conjunction with the Stop the PSE Cuts campaign convened by Public Interest Alberta. The Alberta Federation of Labour was also in attendance.
The caravan made its way from south campus, past north campus, down both Whyte and Jasper avenue to get to their final destination at the legislature.
The convoy comes on the heel of AASUA launching their Protect our Futures campaign, which is based around a petition for the United Conservative Party (UCP) to stop cuts to post-secondary funding.
Jillian Pratt, NASA’s chief steward and grievance chair, highlighted how the cuts affect not only students but also on the staff keeping universities functional.
“Support staff have borne the brunt of these cuts, not just at the University of Alberta, but across the whole sector,” Pratt said. “Support staff underpin the work and learning of students and academic staff in the province.”
She went on to explain that the consequences of the budget cuts to post-secondary will reach beyond institutions.
“The impact of these cuts will have long-lasting effects on Edmonton as a city, and will affect staff workload and mental health for those who remain after the budget cuts,” Pratt said. “Especially as we respond to COVID-19, it’s clear that post-secondary is essential to economic recovery and prosperity.”
“Our coalition is standing up for all Albertans and the right to an affordable, quality post-secondary education. We’re honking, ringing, and
making our voices heard with protests across the province to say enough is enough.”
Students and staff participate in caravan, highlight importance of post-secondary education
U of A students and staff took time out of their Saturday afternoon to join the convoy.
David Peacock, director of the U of A’s Community Service Learning, said he joined the convoy to emphasize to the public that there are real people suffering at the hands of these cuts
“I joined the Caravan today because I’m deeply concerned about the savage cuts happening in PSE today in Alberta, and particularly at the University of Alberta,” Peacock said. “I joined to express my solidarity with those people at the university most vulnerable to the cuts [and] to let the general public know – on Whyte Avenue, on Jasper Avenue – that there are real people who suffering unnecessarily from job cuts, disrupted careers and family life stresses.”
Peacock outlined the important role he believes the university serves for the public good.
“The truth is that Edmonton has a world class institution in the University of Alberta that is designing, inventing and imagining new possibilities for all of us, and our children, into the future,” he said. “To cut it to the bone in a time of pandemic is reckless and makes no economic sense.
“The provincial government needs take a longer view beyond an electoral cycle and invest in its people, and stop kicking them when they’re down.”
Elène Haave-Audet, a biological sciences master’s student, joined the convoy on her bike, a choice she sees as fitting into the underlying message of the caravan’s cause: affordable post-secondary education.
“I wanted to participate on my bike… because living an active, sustainable lifestyle fits into my perception of contributing to a just and equitable society,” she said.
“Society should be focusing on making education more accessible and inclusive- a goal that cannot be achieved effectively with insufficient funds. We know that there are systemic barriers to accessing education… and cutting public education is completely counter to removing those barriers.”
Similar to Peacock, Haave-Audet pointed out that the importance of post-secondary goes beyond the U of A campus.
“I felt it was important to participate in the Stop PSE Cuts drive-by because, to me, accessible education is fundamental to the fabric of society,” she said. “Humans are innovators, and if we don’t promote critical thinking and inquiry-based learning in higher education, we’ll reduce our potential to innovate and problem solve as a society.”
As a grad student, Haave-Audet said besides the obvious concern about tuition increases, she is worried about losing funding for the services essential in pursuing a graduate degree.
“We are so fortunate at the U of A to have access to excellent services- outstanding libraries, access to physical and mental healthcare services, and numerous other essential support services,” she said. “Graduate students operate on tight budgets and many are financially stressed, and having access to these basic services can make a huge difference in the quality of lives of students.”