While in Montréal last week, I heard a lot of unsympathetic comments about the protesting students, who have been upset about what my interlocutors describe as a very small tuition increase — much smaller than the 25% per year that CUNY is going to be undergoing starting in a few months.
There were smoke bombs thrown in the subway one morning we were there — the entire system was shut down during rush hour — and earlier there had been bags of bricks thrown on the tracks, with the same result. Riot police used tear gas and percussion grenades against protesters some weeks before we got there. Faculty and students tell me they have been heckled by protesters, some wearing masks, while trying to enter buildings. (The Montréal city government has proposed banning the covering of one's face during a protest, and the Canadian government is considering a similar law.) So much class time was lost at some institutions that exams have been postponed and at least one campus (Université de Montréal) has canceled graduation ceremonies.
What is most interesting about this is the clear divide between linguistic-cultural affiliations of the students involved — it is "the French" who are said to believe they are entitled to free education, while some (only some) of the others whose opinions I heard in person or read in the papers want to see the army brought in to deal with the situation.
Feelings about free tuition were once high at CUNY, too. Here is a 2010 description from the New York Times:
CUNY colleges once were known as theaters of unrest. In 1970, students shut off elevator service at Hunter College and liberated the cafeteria by serving free food. Helmeted police officers were called, and classes were suspended. In 1976, as CUNY finally faced an end to free tuition, students marched in the streets of Harlem and boycotted classes for three days, while 13 members of the English faculty started a hunger strike.
In 1989, the possibility of tuition increases led students at City College to pour glue and stick toothpicks into the locks of 400 classrooms. Students seized administration buildings and blocked traffic across the city. In 1991, another series of protests prompted classes to be canceled and commencement to be delayed. (The New York Times, December 20, 2010, p. A23)
There are some other documents here:
- The 26 September, 1967, issue of The Campus, the CCNY paper, reporting and commenting on the decision to end free tuition. See "Compromise Termed 'Sellout' by Head of Alumni Group" (pp. 1-2) and "A CU Grows in Brooklyn" (p. 2). More issues of The Campus may be found at the same site.
- "When Tuition at CUNY was Free, Sort of," a 2011 account of the older tuition system and its replacement by financial aid. This account appeared as CUNY was preparing to announce tuition increases.
My view is that when something good — education, for example — has a cost to me, I tend to take it more seriously. That goes for both tuition and homework. I am not arguing in favor of exorbitant tuition or unreasonable workloads, though.
I have also found that people who audit my classes never do all the work assigned, even when they're strongly motivated, and almost always stop attending before the end of the term. It seems to me that the absence of grade-pressure prevents most people from exerting themselves as much as they might.