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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 2002

University-Community Links Are Key to Better Public Education

More than 100 people crowded into the Driftwood Community Centre in Toronto on March 7 to attend a forum on public education organized by CAUT, the York University Faculty Association, and Toronto's Jane-Finch Community.

The event, hosted by radio and television journalist Paul Riley, focussed on the often uneasy relationship between the ethnically diverse community of Jane-Finch and neighbouring York University.

Education and community activist Lennox Farrell referred to the university as an "absentee resident" that should be doing more to reach out to the multicultural community in its backyard.

The Jane-Finch community is highly diverse, including some 15 language communities from East and West Africa, South and Southeast Asia and the Caribbean.

"York University has the clout, influence and resources needed to make a difference." Farrell said. "By displaying a genuine, long-term, progressive and forthright example, York can call to account the roles being played by other universities, colleges, and other educational institutions in this province on issues of equity in education opportunities for disadvantaged ethno-cultural communities."

Roger Rowe of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers expressed much of the frustration that many in the Jane-Finch community feel toward the university.

"I'd like York University to stop using our community as a guinea pig to be talked about and discussed in classrooms," Rowe stated. "York has to get into the community and do something."

"We need the faculty and the university to help us in exposing students in our schools to what's happening at the university and to the idea of obtaining a university education," added Kevin Jacobs, a Firgrove Public School teacher.

Other speakers noted that funding cuts to public education are making it more difficult for students in the Jane-Finch community to finish high school and to go on to university or college.

"When I began teaching here 10 years ago I was amazed at the diversity of programs we offered," said Jennifer Ladouceur, a teacher at Westview Centennial Secondary School.

"However, times have changed. There's not enough diversity in the courses we offer to properly address the needs of our students. The curriculum is harder and moves faster. The students are stressed out and the teachers are worn out."

"University education is becoming inaccessible for many people, especially people in our community," warned community activist Cheryl Prescod.

She estimated it will cost up to $100,000 to send her two children to university.

"That's an amount of money that we will not be able to afford. If our children do make the choice to go to university they will come out of it with an overwhelming debt. With the rising cost of tuition, should we still be encouraging our kids in this community to keep those high expectations of getting a university degree?" Prescod asked.

Richard Telfer of the Canadian Federation of Students agreed that post-secondary education is becoming less accessible for a growing number of people.

"Universities and colleges have been so starved of public funding that tuition fees have been soaring," Telfer said. "The effect of all this is that lower- and middle-income people are being shut out."

Paul Riley concluded the forum by conveying his concerns about the affordability of post-secondary education. Riley recently launched a human rights complaint against law schools in Ontario, alleging high tuition fees are discriminating against low income people and minority groups.

"Since deregulation of fees by the provincial government, professional schools are putting their prices up so high that, what I'm suggesting, is that in five to eight years there will be no more black doctors, dentists, lawyers, and chiropractors," Riley argued. "Very few black people can afford to pay $20,000 a year to send their children to school."

Organizers said they were pleased with the interest and participation from the community residents.

"The purpose of the forum was to foster a dialogue between faculty and the local community about issues of access and quality in education," explained Lorna Erwin, event organizer for YUFA.

"I hope the dialogue we started tonight will carry on and focus on how universities, schools, and residents can work together to ensure better education and more accessible education for the Jane-Finch community."