Mt. A invests in new project so you have more campus space to be broke
It was recently announced that Mt. A received $36 million from the provincial and federal governments to upgrade the campus library and breezeway. The University will top up this payment to $65 million “through a combination of philanthropic support and operational funding,” according to the Mt. A website.
This is exciting stuff, right? Increased services available to students, more opportunities for businesses (or, more specifically, student entrepreneurs), and more spaces to study so you don’t have to constantly fight for your spot in the library. I thought so too, but upon reflection, I am suspicious about this purported “new hub for innovation.”
My first week as a news reporter for the Argosy this year was heartbreaking. I interviewed multiple students about the precarity they faced with New Brunswick’s student EI program cancellation, leading some students to reduce their course load, take on more employment, or drop out altogether. This has definitely impacted how I view Mt. A’s operations and particularly how its decisions affect students in insecure circumstances. Attending university, to many, is a risk—to finances, to housing, to food, to their families—and it seems that Mt. A sweeps this under the rug to accommodate for those who do not face this. In New Brunswick, this ignorance cannot exist humanely—we are repeatedly named as one of the poorest provinces per capita and is the second-highest in food insecurity. The province is facing homelessness, healthcare, housing, and other major crises that are gradually worsening with inflation, the pandemic, and governmental decisions. Trying to provide revolutionary education cannot happen if the province’s population can’t afford to access this education in the first place. Students jokingly hoping for an on-campus injury to afford school should not be a part of the Mt. A experience.
Mt. A has ranked between the first and second most expensive undergraduate school in the country for years and will likely stick to this trend without question. It is not innovative for Mt. A to fund opportunities for students by renovating existing buildings if there are so many financial limitations to becoming a student, especially when these limitations only increase with a stingy government denying financial aid for its youth. This has not been addressed by the provincial government in terms of additional grants, scholarships, or even with increased loans, nor has Mt. A opened up its own scholarship or bursary programs to accommodate this exacerbated insecurity.
I believe that Mt. A could undergo some major ‘innovating’ changes that would go further than offering another space for business students to build another one, maybe two-year business that doesn’t add any long-term development to the school apart from a course credit. Since my first year, there has been universal frustration towards the high scholarship expectations for students that limit people’s opportunities to finance their education without being overworked or terminally stressed. Lowering the required GPA to renew scholarships would be a great step towards “rebranding” itself (because we all know Mt. A is more of a commercial project than an innovative one when it comes to its goals) as a financially accessible institution in a relatively low-income province. This has been a continuous effort by the MASU (at least in my four years here as a student), however, it clearly is not being taken seriously enough to instigate change. This should not be an ostensibly impossible task given that Mt. A prides itself on financial aid packages, accessibility, and creating opportunity.
A physically accessible campus also seems to be ignored in these development projects. Does Mt. A really seek out inclusive spaces and communities if they can’t make existing buildings like Avard Dixon and Hart Hall accessible, both of which are multi-levelled departmental buildings that are often where classes, office hours, and enrichment events are hosted but are absent of elevators or even ramps?
This argument has also completely ignored the disproportionate financial barriers of our international student population that Mt. A uses as an advertising tool while ignoring the ridiculously high cost of tuition, the additional barriers they face when accessing financial aid and employment, and their ineligibility for a lot of Canadian opportunities due to visa restrictions. Why is Mt. A not putting efforts to retain internships for international students with their philanthropic resources? Mt. A shows no recognition of the value of international students if we make it impossible for them to access the same level of academic and extracurricular opportunities, charge them double or triple the cost to attend, and use them as performative objects to prove we’ve met diversity quotas. This way, domestic students don’t have to go far to be exposed to other cultures (but often refuse to engage with them meaningfully anyway). Arguments have been made that international students are obligated to pay additional tuition fees because international exchanges are an objectively higher cost, but domestic Mt. A students do not have to pay a higher tuition to go on semester exchanges — only visas and student fees.
I must recognize that my cynical view of this project does not come as a rejection of University development as a whole. It is essential that Mt. A continues to develop itself as an innovative institution of learning that provides opportunities for its students to engage with faculty and community members. The Indigenous knowledge space is also something that has been a long-time ask from Indigenous students and staff for years, and it’s good to see it (finally) being put on an agenda. Although it seems to be unadvertised and isn’t getting as much of the spotlight in this project as it should, it’s promising to see that Mt. A is taking some (albeit flashy and marketable) efforts to recognize itself as an institution responsible for reconciliatory acts and incorporating Indigenous culture into campus life. This also opens opportunities for non-Indigenous students to engage with Indigenous culture, instead of this space being limited to the end of a low-traffic hallway in the student centre.
I do not bring new or revolutionary suggestions to this article. These issues have been here since long before I started school here in 2019; to say they are unbeknownst to Mt. A’s administration would be a lie. The fact that the University chooses to push them aside for marketable before-and-after photo-ops show Mt. A is more concerned with theoretical allyship with its student population, but fails to put it to practice by listening to what could truly make education a right, not a privilege or gamble, for its students. I hope that future innovations the University pursues create opportunities for students to attend school and access a degree to better their lives without financial barriers in the first place, instead of creating more reasons to justify tuition increases and commercialize itself as a for-profit business before a place of learning.