Organizations representing post-secondary students and faculty are calling on the Progressive Conservative government to withdraw a bill they feel would infringe upon academic freedom and negatively affect services.
At a news conference Friday organized by the Manitoba NDP, the organizations demanded the PCs hold back proposed amendments to the Advanced Education Administration Act (Bill 33) for further study.
They claimed they had not been consulted in advance of the bill's introduction in the legislature.
Wayne Ewasko, minister of advanced education, skills and immigration, has sought to allay concerns Bill 33 would give the province the power to override student dues decided upon in campus referendums.
He said this week there has been "misinformation" circulating about the purpose of the bill, which would grant the province oversight in setting tuition and student fees.
However, student organizations remain concerned the proposed legislation may empower the government to interfere in areas now under their control, threatening the provision of vital student services.
"As the bill is currently written, there's far too much vagueness, and this sets a dangerous precedent that will leave student unions and associations at risk of interference (from government)," said Brenden Gali, chairman of the Canadian Federation of Students (Manitoba).
Scott Forbes, president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations, said the PC government "has been no friend of higher education" in its five years in office.
Bill 33 "allows for direct political interference in university programming," Forbes said.
"To perform their mission, universities must be free from political interference over academic matters," he said. "They cannot have the minister looking over their shoulder, telling them which programs are politically acceptable and which are not. Bill 33 allows for this through the imposition of differential tuition fees by program."
Jamie Moses, NDP critic for economic development and training, said Ewasko should withdraw the bill until he's properly consulted with student and faculty groups.
Moses said he was concerned the proposed amendments would lead to escalating tuition costs.
In tweets this week, Ewasko said Bill 33 would not affect student group funding or services such as the Winnipeg Transit U-Pass, campus newspapers, food banks, scholarships, gyms and athletics, or women's centres.
"It is there for the protection of students against increases to course-related fees," the minister wrote.
In a letter to Gali, dated March 10, Ewasko said Bill 33 "excludes fees set by student unions or associations from future tuition and student fee guidelines."
However, Moses said that a tweet or a letter "isn't going to cut it."
The guarantees against government interference in student organizations should be clearly written into the bill, the NDP MLA said.
Reacting to claims the government did not consult with groups before introducing its bill last fall, Ewasko issued a statement late Friday to say the amendments were posted on a government portal available to the public.
Ewasko said he has met with the student federation "on multiple occasions" to address their concerns. He also said the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations "has not made any request to meet with me or seek clarification on Bill 33."
The faculty group denied that statement, saying in a message to the Free Press it had emailed its stance (and full statement on the bill) this week to three accounts linked to Ewasko, including the official ministerial office and his constituency office addresses.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.