28 March 2010

"Project Hero" is Nothing New nor Necessary: The Federal Government Already Provides Assistance

One of the less informed, or less honest, assertions made about the "Project Hero Scholarship" is that the program is a necessary form of support for poor children who have lost a parent to fighting in Afghanistan. This implies that were it not for Project Hero, these youths would be left to their own devices (like so many other low income children of single parents in Canada). The argument then becomes that the academic critics of the program are being extremely mean and unjust in wanting to deny this support, among other "contemptible" motivations (as the Globe and Mail suggested).

But all of these assertions are plainly incorrect, and in some cases are outright falsehoods used to ostracize and mob the 16 University of Regina professors who, as good scholars, spoke out in good conscience. The majority of the public, which is against the war in Afghanistan, would demand that many more join them.

First, Project Hero is redundant. The Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act C-28 already exists. This is hardly a case that without Project Hero, these children are left abandoned and without benefits. Read the provisions of Act C-28, some of which follow:
Allowances and costs of instruction
3. The Minister may, in accordance with this Act and the regulations,
(a) make allowances to or in respect of students to enable them to continue their education or instruction within an educational institution; and
(b) pay in whole or in part the cost of such education or instruction.
R.S., 1985, c. C-28, s. 3; R.S., 1985, c. 12 (2nd Supp.), s. 2.
Amount of allowance
4. (1) The amount of the monthly allowance that may be paid to or in respect of a student during the period in which the student pursues a full-time course of study in an educational institution is the aggregate of
(a) $300.00, and
(b) if no pension is being paid on behalf of the student under or by virtue of any of the enactments set out in the schedule, an additional amount equal to the monthly rate of pension for one orphan child provided in Schedule II to the Pension Act.
Total period covered
(2) The total period for which an allowance and costs may be paid to or in respect of a student under this Act shall not exceed four academic years or thirty-six months, whichever is the lesser.
(3) The costs of education or instruction that may be paid in respect of a student under this Act shall include such tuition and other fees and costs as may be prescribed by regulation.
Minister may extend
(4) The Minister may extend the total period for which an allowance and costs may be paid to or in respect of a student under this Act where the Minister is of the opinion that the student’s progress and achievements in his course of study are such that it would be in the interest both of the student and of the public that the payments under section 3 be continued during a further period.
R.S., 1985, c. C-28, s. 4; 1990, c. 43, s. 45; 2003, c. 27, s. 3.
Age limit
5. No allowance or costs shall be paid under this Act in respect of a student who
(a) has attained the age of twenty-five years, or
(b) where, pursuant to subsection 4(4), the Minister has extended the total period for which an allowance and costs may be paid beyond the year in which the student attains the age of twenty-five years, has attained the age of thirty years, except in so far as may be necessary to enable the student to complete the academic year in which he attains that age.
R.S., 1985, c. C-28, s. 5; 1990, c. 43, s. 46.
6. [Repealed, 1990, c. 43, s. 47]
Annual adjustment
9. (1) Where any allowance has become payable under this Act, the basic monthly amount of that allowance shall be adjusted annually, in such manner as may be prescribed by the Governor in Council, so that the amount payable for a month in any following year is an amount equal to the product obtained by multiplying
(a) the amount that would have been payable for that month if no adjustment had been made under this section with respect to that following year,
(b) the ratio that the Consumer Price Index for the twelve month period ending on the thirty-first day of October immediately before that following year bears to the Consumer Price Index for the twelve month period immediately before that twelve month period.
That much should be settled: the 16 University of Regina professors are not threatening to take bread for anyone's mouth.

Second, the University of Regina professors have not said that children of deceased military parents should not receive support. Instead, this is what they actually said:
The majority of young adults in Canada find it increasingly difficult to pay for their education. If they do make it to university, they rack up massive student debts which burden them for years. Instead of privileging the children of deceased Canadian soldiers, we suggest that our administration demand all levels of government provide funding sufficient for universal qualified access to post-secondary education.
Again, their point was too simple to be missed, which is why the continuing condemnation of their concerns is all the more dishonest and egregiously inegalitarian. They would like to see support for all struggling students. The really mean and unjust argument is to say that only some are deserving, the rest can essentially go to hell. That is privileging some over others. And why should only some be privileged? Whose poverty is better and more deserving than another's? The answer lies in the fact of the new military normal in Canada, with increasing militarization of the society, culture, and academia. The critics of the professors have made their point for them, however inelegantly.

Third, the professors are accused of being "political." Yet the very essence of the classic definition of "politics" is about who has the power to decide who gets what and why. The decision to fund only a certain category of students, those whose parents have fought in a war in service to the state, is a fundamentally political one. The unthinking complaint that the professors are being "political" and should "get back to their jobs," demonstrates precisely the extent to which freedom of thought and speech is being virtually outlawed when the imperatives of the national security state are in question. Apparently "the job" of professors is never to serve as citizens, with rights, and they should instead "get back to" teaching mere data and information, not producing knowledge and exploring meaning. Some should really invest time in understanding what higher education means, before pontificating to scholars, but more importantly, before further damaging the meaning of democracy and the benefit of higher learning. If these professors are as degenerate and contemptible as their attackers suggest, then surely Project Hero is redundant for one more reason: Why would you want your children to be taught by such people?

Fourth, the erroneous assertion has been made that the same children of these professors go to university for free. Not quite. Typically at a Canadian university that has such an allowance, and not all do, we find the following stated (in this case, the Collective Agreement at Concordia University is used as an example):
a) Members and their dependents are entitled to a waiver of tuition fees as detailed hereunder for any credit course(s) of Concordia University for which they are eligible to enroll.
What is not made clear is that such a waiver is treated as taxable income -- not so "free" after all.

For those who wish to pursue crass anti-intellectualist arguments, grudging those who teach your children, or who would like to see a uniformly right-wing bias dominate university, we ask that you reflect on how you have deeply impoverished this debate and the extent to which you are willing to further the militarization of this society, the dampening of free speech, and the castigation of those whose job it is to question and to always be skeptical. Also remember, they are not the minority--most Canadians oppose the war in Afghanistan, and have for a long time. AJP wishes to renew its thanks to those 16 professors for their important public service. The professors have no reason to apologize or withdraw their statement, and we all have every reason to praise them for their courage.
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