Pacta sunt servanda: “pacts must be kept”.
Modern contract law (and by extension, modern civilisation) has been built around this concept, a principle that has saved us from reverting to the barbarism of ‘he who has the biggest gun wins’ law. Indeed, within the context of modern society, practically everything derives from one contract or another. Even starting something as trivial as a Twitter account requires one to enter a legally enforceable contract.
As something so small is subject to a contract, one would expect an often hundred thousand dollar expense like university would be subject to a contract. Unfortunately, this is not the case when it comes to the modern Canadian university. When one enters university, there is usually no explicit contract outlining what parties are expected to provide what, and for what cost. This vacuum imperils student’s rights, which would be far more effectually defended by an explicit contract than any sort of student union.
The need for such contracts is best exemplified by the strike at York University in Toronto three years ago. Striking teaching assistants caused the university to have no classes for nearly twelve weeks in 2008. Only an act of Queen’s Park caused the strike to stop.
Had the students of York and the university entered into a contract, the university would likely have been violating the contract by failing to provide services for the fees they received. Had a clear-cut, explicit contract such as that existed, students would have been able to sue for breach of contract and could have received some sort of compensation for their lost semester.
A contract is better than any union; regardless of the strength of a student union, all they can do is raise debate. They have raised hell as students in Québec are seeing their tuition fees expectantly raised in the budget the Liberals are tabling. Similarly, they have been angry about unlucky engineering students at Queen’s University having to pay the university an additional $3,000 after they finished paying their tuition; a clerical error was to blame.
But the student unions have not been able to actually accomplish anything. Indeed, they have often actively supported causes that many students are opposed to. They have forced students everywhere into their membership ranks, and used their role as ‘the voice of students’ inappropriately.
If students want their views represented and want their university’s to serve them, they need contracts and the ability to sue, not student unions like Queen’s Alma Mater Society or McGill’s Students’ Society of McGill University.
This article may not reflect the views of the Prince Arthur Herald.