Students allowed to skip school to protest

University senate gives students 'academic amnesty' in light of Student Day of Action


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Posters for the Student Day of Action can be found all over Dalhousie. (Photo: Belinda Alzner)

Dalhousie students have been given a free pass to rally at the province-wide protest for lower tuition fees next week, if they get permission from their professors.

The university's senate passed a motion put forth by the Dalhousie Student Union on Monday. The motion requests professors give "academic amnesty" to students who wish to participate in the Student Day of Action by not penalizing them for work missed.

Students must ask professors ahead of time and make alternate arrangements for what they miss. Those who are in clinical work or labs or who have midterms or tests won't be able to take part.

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Students will meet outside the Killam Library on Feb. 2. (Photo: Belinda Alzner)

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The local universities and colleges will meet at noon, then rally together at Victoria Park before travelling to Province House.

"(They) will not be able to miss that work because they will not be able to make it up," said Chris Saulnier, student union president.

The accommodations are geared towards students who have an assignment due that day or have participation or attendance marks on the line, he said.

Saulnier also acknowledged it is only a request. It is still up to faculty members whether or not they will allow students to miss class without penalty.

The day of action

The rally, organized by the Canadian Federation of Students, will be held on Feb. 2 at different schools around Nova Scotia. In Halifax, students from each school will come together at Victoria Park. The group will move on to Province House on Hollis Street.

Students are protesting high tuition fees in Nova Scotia, which are, on average, almost $800 higher than the national average and could possibly go up as much as 21 per cent next year with the removal of a tuition freeze.

"Academic amnesty is important to the Student Day of Action because students are often hesitant to miss class to go to an action like this," said Rebecca Rose, the Maritimes organizer for the federation.

"If they know that their profs aren't going to penalize them ... then that helps a lot with getting people out to the day."

Rose said she had heard of some professors cancelling classes to allow students to go to the rallies and is appreciative of how accommodating they've been.

"Administration and students disagree when it comes to tuition fee levels ... but it's good to see that they support their students being engaged and being active in their community and participating in the political process," Rose said.

Some students said they weren't aware of the senate's decision.

Amani Abouchahine, a second-year commerce student, now plans to talk to her professor so she can take part in the rally. "I think (tuition) is high enough and most students can't afford it right now," she said.

Matt Gillard didn't know of the senate's decision either but won't be attending the rally because he finds these events ineffective. The master's student thinks "it just doesn't really accomplish anything."

Everyone's doing it

Similar motions have been passed at the University of King's College, NSCAD and Mount St. Vincent University. Saint Mary's University is holding an emergency senate meeting Wednesday to decide what it will do.

Mike Mercer, vice president of university affairs for Saint Mary's University Students' Association, said that he expects his school to follow suit.

The motion SMUSA is proposing is similar to the one passed by Dal. It is a request that leaves discretion up to faculty, but it also explicitly outlines that the request applies to participation marks, readings and in-class assignments and tests.

This clarification was only brought up during the senate's discussion of the motion at Dal and was not part of the motion itself.

Saint Mary's students will be participating in the Student Day of Action rally regardless of the senate's decision, Mercer said.

While Rose recognizes that some students may use this as a way to merely skip class, she believes that many students will come out to the rally.

"If a student chooses to skip class that day or any other day that's their own prerogative," Rose said.

Rallies in the past

There have been several days of action over the last 15 years. They don't take place annually or at regular intervals.

Dalhousie's senate has approved similar motions to let students participate in the student day of action in both 2002 and 2004.

Kaley Kennedy, with the Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Federation of Students, said there were about 600 students that attended the last Day of Action in 2007. According to Rose, Dalhousie did not have any academic accommodations that year.

They are some of the biggest rallies ever to be held in Nova Scotia, Kennedy said.



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