UNBSJ: Still here, thanks to you
It has been just over one year since the students, staff and faculty of UNBSJ were forced to fight for the very existence of our community’s university. A government sponsored report proposed that UNBSJ be dismantled and turned into an ill-defined polytechnic. The people of Saint John and area were not the only ones to have their access to university education under attack: students in Edmundston and Shippagan were also told that if they wanted a university education, they would have to leave their communities to get one. Fortunately, thanks to an incredible ground-swell of community support, the people of Saint John, Edmundston and Shippagan and their surrounding regions still have their universities.
While the struggle to ensure access to high quality university education for our communities is far from over, as another Thanksgiving rolled around this past weekend many of us remember that without the support of family, friends, neighbours and the community in general, it is doubtful that UNBSJ would still be here. It was a year ago this week that one of the largest rallies Saint John had ever seen took place in King Square to defend UNBSJ. Most of the people who attended this and other events did not work and study at the university, but for them an attack on the university was an attack on them, their community, and especially on young people. What a difference it made that people from all walks of life came out to fight for the university. People took time from their busy lives to attend rallies and meetings; they put-up signs in their windows to say that UNBSJ was “worth the fight”; and they sported the “colours” of UNBSJ on buttons, ribbons and t-shirts. Rare were the days when university folks could walk through the City or Kingston markets or go to a coffee shop or local store without merchants and customers asking about how the campaign was going or offering their support. People signed petitions, wrote letters to the editor and called-in to radio shows; they joined Facebook groups and talked to their neighbours to rally support, and they called, wrote or met with their MLAs to insist that UNBSJ remain a university.
The numbers of people who participated in the campaign to save UNBSJ were overwhelming. Churches and schools hosted events to build support for the university. Trade unions came out in force and refused to accept the idea promoted by those hostile to the university that the people of Saint John had to choose between so-called “blue collar” and “university” education. Local businesses put up posters and signs and took “ballot boxes” for petitions and sports teams held “Save UNBSJ” tournaments. Individuals and associations donated time, money and their names to support the cause – for example the Medical Society, the Irish Canadian Cultural Association, the Saint John and District Labour Council, the Saint John Board of Trade and the UNBSJ Alumni. The Saint John and Quispamsis municipal councils passed resolutions in support of the university and the Conservative and New Democratic Parties added their voices to the campaign. Every day throughout the fall of 2007 citizens forced politicians to sit up and listen. It was this spontaneous and heartfelt support that saved UNBSJ and compelled the government to back away from a report it clearly supported.
We cannot possibly list all the individuals and groups who came to the defence of UNBSJ. And that is exactly the point: the countless everyday actions, both large and small, of the people of Saint John and area not only saved the university but they brought us much closer together as a community. Greater Saint John embraced and defended UNBSJ and we promise to continue to fight for our community’s access to the best university education possible.
Mary Ann Campbell
[This letter was written fairly quickly and there wasn’t time to canvas everyone, so any member of the campus community who would still like to sign please leave a comment to this post or contact Debra Lindsay or Miriam Jones]