Throughout the month of May, the voice will be celebrating its 10th year in publication. Each week I’ll be delving into the archives to provide a retrospective of our paper, and by extension, the factors affecting AU students throughout the past decade. Many changes in school and government policy have taken place over this time period, and many things have stayed the same. The battle to convince the government to view distance education in the same light as traditional education rages on, while student services have declined and tuition fees have soared. As students, we can better understand where education is heading in the future, by taking a look at our past. This week I look at the first issue of The Voice, published in 1993:
In spring of 1993, the first issue of the Athabasca University students’ newspaper was released, under the unassuming title: The Paper. Apparently the Students’ Union (then known as the Students’ Association – AUSA) had trouble coming up with a title, but the sub-title – The Student Voice of the Athabasca University Community – already contained the name that would grace the paper beginning with issue number two and continuing until today.
That first issue, in fact, contained a contest titled Name the Newspaper, which offered a one hundred dollar prize to the winning title suggestion. The contest had two winners, who were announced in the next issue. One – former journalist Nicholas Nickyforuk – said that he chose The Voice because “communication is always by voice, whether in print, electronic or other media.” The second winner, Dawn Weigel, had a simpler explanation: “Everything she had read about the AUSA newspaper described it as the ‘voice of the student’ and she thought, ‘How appropriate!'”
I suspect that the sub-title of the first issue probably prompted Nicholas’ suggestion as well, but nevertheless, his explanation of why The Voice is a great name is perfect. This paper truly is your voice – nothing more, nothing less.
I’ve thought a lot about the title of our paper lately. A few weeks ago I became aware of a situation in the United States, where the publishing giant The Village Voice has taken legal action against small papers that uses the word “Voice” in their title. We’re safe, so far, because we are in Canada, but nevertheless I have taken a keen interest in this case of journalistic bullying since speaking with Fran Reichenbach, editor of small L.A. community newspaper, The Beachwood Voice. Her unfortunate case [and if you want to know more, you can read Alexander Zaitchik’s scathing article Flower Power in the New York Press, Vol 16, Iss 17 – 4-23-2003], led me to think about the title of our paper, and its meaning.
The Village Voice has tried to claim that the word “voice” is easily and immediately identifiable with their product, but Mr. Zaitchik finds their logic to be suspect. The very fact that the Village Voice has been in court repeatedly, attacking Voice after Voice after Voice, indicates that the word is in fact generic to small newspapers, and not an identifiable trademark of any one paper.
The word is generic for good reason. Small papers – such as those produced by communities, universities, and other smaller groups, serve similar purposes. They provide a forum in which their members can express their thoughts, feelings and ideas, and where readers can gain a greater understanding of the issues effecting others in their group.
A small newspaper literally is the Voice of its readers, just as our Voice is the expressive tool of the students of Athabasca University. The name is simple, but it is also perfect.
A few weeks ago the name of the Voice was changed from The Voice Newspaper, to The Voice Magazine. We made the change to reflect the unique nature of our online community, and the role that our publication plays in bringing that community together. We are not a newspaper – though we initially set out to be. Newspapers report – on events, happenings, and things to come: magazines explore, expound, and expand on what has been reported. That is what we do, and hence the change in name. At no time, though, did anyone suggested changing the word Voice to anything else because the purpose of the paper has never changed.
So the first issue of the Athabasca University students’ publication came about because AU students needed a forum where issues affecting all students could be addressed. Following is just some of what I learned from reading the first issue:
TUITION SOARS AND THE UBIQUITOUS PREMIER RALPH OFFERS SOME ADVICE
In 1993 AU students endured a whopping 15% hike in tuition and fees, in response to a government funding increase of 0% for that year. The article does not say what the tuition rates were before or after the increase, but it does note that the 15% increase was lower than “those charged [to] students at other universities in Alberta.
In a related article, reprinted from the University of Alberta’s Gateway, Premier Ralph Klein was quoted as saying that University Presidents should cut their salaries by several percent in keeping with the recessionary pace of Alberta’s economy. Klein further said that University Presidents, Hospital presidents and school board superintendents “for the most part, especially in the big cities, make a lot more money that I as Premier of this province could ever hope to make:” There is no indication if the president of AU, or any other Alberta university, took a pay cut at Klein’s suggestion.
It is startling to realize that Mr. Klein has been leading this province throughout the entire 10 year period that The Voice [and AUSU] has been in existence, and that massive funding cuts for post-secondary education are a significant part of his legacy:
INTEREST FREE GRACE PERIOD IN PERIL
Also in 1993, the six month interest free grace period at the end of study for student loans recipients was about to be discontinued by the Canadian Government. This grace period still exists, however [and has just been increased to one year for Manitoba residents – see FedWatch!, this issue for more information], so clearly the decision was overturned at the last minute, or the grace period was reintroduced at a later date. Nevertheless, the fact that the government had strongly considered removing this benefit sheds some light on just how precarious the position of student loans recipients is:
AUSA NOW AUSU
The Athabasca University Students’ Association council consisted of 11 members in 1993, with a 3 member executive – this differs from today’s composition of a total of 9 members, and 3 executives. The 1993 council’s greater numbers did little to prevent internal strife, however. The first issue of The Paper reports that due to “philosophical differences” between the executive and the remainder of council, all three executive members handed in their resignations and a new executive was chosen. Nevertheless, 1993 was clearly a busy year for AUSA, as it was also the year that council became full members of The Council Of Alberta University Students [CAUS], of which AUSU is still a member…
THE TUTOR’S VOICE
Tutors had more input into the early Voice. In fact, one article – Tutors Protest New Instructor Positions – was written by AU Women’s Studies tutor Cathy Cavanaugh. In her article, Cathy says that tutors “opposed the administration’s decision to eliminate toll-free telephone access last year since we knew that this created a hardship for some students.”
We have the tutors to thank, then for the toll-free phone access that we still enjoy today! I have to admit, I’m astonished that AU wanted to remove this access at all, since it is the only means by which students can discuss matters with their tutors. Clearly telephone and internet access at AU take the place of physical infrastructure at other schools, and to remove free phone access is tantamount to charging students rent for a seat in a lecture hall after they have already paid for their course! It is fortunate that we have The Voice archives as a source of information about past university decisions, so that we can be reminded of how important it is to continue to fight for maximum value for our tuition dollars :
SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE:
In 1993, AUSA recognized that students of “open and distance post-secondary education : often face unique barriers while in pursuit of their educational goals.” The union said that they would strive, “through a system of consultation and representation : to campaign for a fair deal for students in terms of funding and tuition fees, access to education, and quality of education.” To further this cause, AUSA requested positions on committees of the Students’ Finance Board. The battle to ensure that mature and distance learners are adequately represented among post-secondary students continues today:
:: The 1993 honorary degree recipients were country singer Ian Tyson, and nursing leader Helen Sabin. They were awarded their honorary doctorates at what was AU’s 16th annual convocation.
:: Courses could only be extended for a period of three months, and extension requests had to be made a full month before the end date of the course [today, AU is very close to going back to the system of requiring a full month’s notice. You can help keep our current extension policy – which allows extensions right up until the last day of the course – by making sure that you extend early if you know in advance that you will need to do so.].
:: Even in 1993, students were confused about how to find all the information they needed in the AU Calendar [today, they AU website is another point of confusion], and a column in The Paper entitled Did You Know? was introduced to provide information on AU policy. In the first column we learn that “If you are withdrawing from a course and you don’t fill out a ‘withdrawal request form’ : the university has to give you a failing mark as your final grade in the course.” The column invited students to write in with their questions or concerns, to be answered in a future edition.