Toronto, Nov. 22, 2019 – Ontario faculty are pleased to see that the Ontario Divisional Court has struck down the Ford government’s controversial “Student Choice Initiative” (SCI), finding the directive both unlawful and a violation of university autonomy.
The Court found that Ford’s Cabinet and the then Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities overstepped their authority in requiring universities and colleges to make certain ancillary fees optional – including democratically determined students’ union dues. The Court found that the SCI’s requirements were inconsistent with the laws governing Ontario’s universities and colleges, and interfered with university autonomy and student democracy. To quote the ruling: “There is no statutory authority for Cabinet or the Minister to interfere with democratic decisions taken by students respecting their student association membership fees.”
“This ruling affirms that the principles of institutional autonomy and academic freedom are fundamental to the functioning of Ontario’s universities and the rights of faculty and students,” said Rahul Sapra, President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. “Through its numerous uninformed and reckless policy directives, the Ford government continues to threaten the integrity and quality of Ontario’s universities. These policies include the anti-democratic SCI that sought to silence student voices critical of the government, the massive cuts to OSAP that have made postsecondary education unaffordable for many, and the new performance-based funding model that will cut funding from institutions that need it most.”
This is only the most recent legal defeat for the Ford government, which has established a pattern of introducing bad legislation and policies with no consultation, and then losing when those pieces of legislation and policy are challenged in court.
The ruling confirms the essential contributions students’ unions make to collegial governance structures at Ontario universities. Further, it confirms the central role of academic freedom and institutional autonomy in ensuring universities are able to operate effectively, free of political interference from government. The court references these as being “bedrock principles on which Ontario universities have been governed for more than 100 years.”
“Ontario faculty have a great deal of respect for students’ unions and the important services and advocacy they provide for their members. We congratulate students across Ontario on this significant victory,” said Sapra. “Students’ unions are a vital part of the campus community and we will continue to work with them to advance our shared goal of fostering vibrant universities that provide accessible, quality education and innovative, ground-breaking research.”
If Doug Ford truly wants to save students money and reduce barriers to postsecondary education, he should consult with the students, faculty and staff who understand Ontario’s postsecondary education system. Collectively, we have long called for increased public funding for Ontario’s universities that would allow the government to responsibly lower tuition fees and abandon its dangerous plans for performance-based funding.
Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 faculty and academic librarians in 30 faculty associations across Ontario. OCUFA can be found online at www.ocufa.on.ca.
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