Memorial University is in its annual state of democracy, although it’s not particularly robust.
There’s only one contested executive position in the MUN student union election this year: Hillary Bellows and Stephanie Mauger are competing for director of advocacy. The candidates, however, are distinguished by a critical policy difference: their stance on the tuition freeze.
While Bellows agrees with MUNSU’s current stance that the tuition freeze should be a top priority, Mauger told the Muse that she thinks the union should re-evaluate its absolutist position on student fees.
“The MUNnels are leaking and each and every building needs some sort of reconstruction or some sort of work done on it,” said Mauger, a current arts rep on the MUNSU board of directors.
“There comes a point when it’s not worth it anymore because everything is falling down around you.”
Mauger said that pushing MUN’s crumbling infrastructure to the wayside in order to maintain a tuition freeze will ultimately deter future students.
Plus, she said, students will feel the brunt of the freeze once they’re in the workforce and paying taxes.
“The students, when they come for the university tour, are going to come here and say, ‘wow this place is kind of a shithole, so why would I want to come here even though it’s cheap,’” said Mauger.
“I think that we’ve come to a point where we just can’t do it anymore. And if it means that our province has to go into a huge hole just to keep the tuition freeze, well we’re going to be paying for that in a few years anyway.”
Mauger’s opponent, Hillary Bellows, disagrees. Bellows says that raising tuition won’t necessarily fix other problems and that it opens the floodgates for further fee hikes.
“If you do raise the fees and you stop the tuition freeze what’s to stop them from raising them every year after that,” said Bellows, who is a current science rep.
“That’s why the tuition freeze is there, to ensure that students won’t have these enormous fee hikes.”
Bellow’s stance is in line with that of the acclaimed executive members.
Brittany Lennox, Renata Lang and Lindsay Batt (acclaimed directors of external affairs, student life, and finance respectively) all told the Muse that despite growing fiscal constraints, the student union should continue to make fighting for a tuition freeze a top priority. Brittany Byrnes was unavailable for an interview.
“From experience in the past, if you give a little those in charge end up taking a lot,” said Lang, who is a current business rep on the board.
“I believe if we give up then we’re going to see huge repercussions with a lot of students leaving, and the province is going to suffer as a result.”
The provincial government has asked MUN to find 30 per cent in savings to help deal with the province’s fiscal crisis.
CFS “clouding” MUN-specific campaigns, says Mauger
Mauger also holds the dissenting opinion that MUNSU shouldn’t focus so primarily on Canadian Federation of Students campaigns.
“I do think that in a lot of ways the needs of MUN students are being kind of clouded by the need to push the CFS campaigns. Things like the Work is Work campaign, which has kind of fallen to the wayside,” she said.
“I think we owe it to MUN students to start pushing some different campaigns.”
Bellows, meanwhile, told the Muse she did not think there is anything major that should change within the MUNSU board of directors. She said that her major focus as director of advocacy would be on helping ensure the rights of students in residence, and improving overall awareness and accessibility of student rights on campus.
Bellows said that this year there was a lot of controversy over rules in residence, and that as a former residence student herself, she could offer a lot.
Two of the acclaimed directors are returning members of this year’s executive; Brittany Lennox will switch from the student life portfolio to director of external affairs. Brittany Byrnes will continue in the same position as director of campaigns.
Voting for the student union election is on March 22 and 23. There will not be a debate this year because Bellows had to leave St. John’s for family reasons. Chief Returning Officer Tiffany Holmberg said there may be an online forum instead in the coming week.