Dear Dalhousie: get your priorities straight!

Millionaires over students?

Well Dalhousie, here we are again, at the start of another school year. I’m excited to be back, and I’m ready to let my life be dominated by my studies for the next eight months. As a student, I’d like to believe that you’d be making my colleagues and I your top priority as well – but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Dalhousie, in June of this year, you paid a fee of $300 000 USD to send nine representatives of Nova Scotia to MIT. These representatives were to participate in a program called the ‘Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program’ (REAP), which “links regions with world-leading experts to develop programs aimed at improving innovation-driven entrepreneurship”.

Oh, Dalhousie. When I first saw this headline, I was excited. I naively assumed that you might have sent 9 individuals connected to the university, perhaps graduate students, off to greener pastures to gain knowledge to benefit us all. But then I read a little further, and became very confused.

Among the 9 individuals on the list, three are government employees. One is a billionaire. One made not just 1 million, but 4.6 million dollars just last year. All are wealthy, well-established individuals with careers of their own. (Only one of them is a woman, but that’s not even my main problem here). Just one of them is directly connected with Dalhousie, and that’s our esteemed President Richard Florizone.

Poor silly Dalhousie. You’ve got things really mixed up! As more than one commentator has pointed out, this sort of program is the type of thing that the government should support. See, a few years ago the government commissioned this thing called the Ivany report which told them what most of us already knew, namely that Nova Scotia’s economy sucks and that the government needs to fix it.

Programs like REAP are just the type of thing that our government should be involved in, by their own account. Three of the nine delegation members work for the provincial or federal governments, for heaven’s sake! Yet, in the absence of government funding, you – supposedly an institution primarily concerned with education – decided to pick up the bill.

Dalhousie, this part of the story just makes me sad. While you’ve been unable to find adequate funding for the campus sexual assault helpline, somehow you managed to scrounge up the dough to send a few millionaires back to school.

Why on earth couldn’t the wealthy individuals involved pay the approximately 30 grand apiece to get into the program on their own? A quick Google search gives you some idea of the wealth of the individuals involved.

The team is ‘championed’ by President Richard Florizone, who last year received the relatively small sum of $409 000 dollars for his efforts, compared to John Risley (worth, as of 2016, $2.35 billion) or Chris Huskilson (earned $4.3 million in 2015 alone).

Why then, Dalhousie, are you paying the way for these nine extremely wealthy individuals when you expect young, unestablished, and debt-ridden students to pay comparable amounts in tuition? Pity the international and graduate students who must come up with tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of attending class. Honestly, Dalhousie, if anyone needs help paying their tuition around here, I’m pretty darn sure that it’s not John Risley.

Look, I get it, Dal. You want to encourage innovation, and support the local economy, and do great things for Nova Scotia. Believe me, there are so many students who want these things too! But we can’t get there without the help and support of an institution like you.

No matter which way you flip it, paying for the province’s best and brightest (and wealthiest) to have access to all the advantages that MIT can bring is not going to sit well with students who are being increasingly overcharged.

In a time where students have just been hit with a substantial hike in tuition and faculty budgets and on-campus services are being cut, at best, this move – giving a helping hand to the already wealthy and successful – is a major PR fail. At worst, it’s just another example of the identity crisis that many universities seem to be undergoing these days, where supporting industry instead of students has become the priority.

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