In a sea of smiling, young faces and black graduation robes at Thursday’s University of Toronto Convocation Hall ceremonies, one person stood out: the serious young man with the red, floppy brimmed hat, long brown hair and red square pinned to his gown.
He stood out even more when he advanced toward the podium and had words with a marshal who wanted to know why he was carrying a sign that said “no’’ and suggested he not go further with it.
But after a few awkward seconds, while the announcer waited for the small drama to be played out, the young man’s name was announced and Michael Vipperman went up to the podium, where various U of T officials and other dignitaries were seated. He turned and faced the audience, held up his “no’’ sign and said, “I hereby renounce this degree.’’
The 26-year-old also handed out pamphlets to a few people on the podium explaining why he was rejecting his honours bachelor of arts degree and left the stage.
Vipperman, who grew up in Toronto, said he stands in solidarity with “the courageous students of Quebec’’ and their fight for accessible education, the right to protest and against corruption in government.
He said university education is becoming elitist and exclusionary with “only certain people able to afford it.’’
“Education is being treated like a product, a commodity. Education should be an ongoing process rather than a product which can be sold or received.’’
I, Michael Vipperman, intend to renounce the degree I am being offered from the University of Toronto on June 14, 2012, in protest over the ongoing commodification and bureaucratization of education at this University, best exemplified by the increasingly intimate relationship between the University and such venemous institutions as Barrick Gold and the World Bank.
Education is an ongoing process, not a product which can be sold or received. However, the degree I am being offered represents an expensive end goal, accessible only to an elite few, not on the basis of whatever academic merit we may possess, but on our access to wealth and on our willingness to play by the rules of bureaucracy. It is a symbol of the priorities and values of this University, which in recent years has increasingly sacrificed quality on the altar of efficiency, constricting the freedoms both of students and of faculty. Meanwhile, funding priorities have emphasised generating wealth for industry over providing a quality education. This is the norm whenever such commodification takes place. One simply needs to observe the classroom sizes on this campus, where now even some tutorials are held in Convocation Hall, to be convinced of the extent of the damage done to the educational experience.
I stand in solidarity with the courageous students of Québec, who have been mounting fierce resistance against such political/economic warfare. They are clearly cognizant of where this road leads. Knowing that it is possible for us to do better, I would like to call upon my peers, in Canada and globally, to oppose the neoliberal hegemony that continues to deny what is rightfully ours: barrier-free education.