Yesterday, after months of labour unrest and after attacks on Jewish students, the president of York University made a speech to the university senate. In part, the speech said,
[A]t a time when our community should be pulling together, we turn on each other instead — academic disruption, intimidation, sit-ins, name-calling, shouting people down, banging on the doors and windows of Senate or the Board of Governors or student clubs. Then we run to the media and tell anyone who will listen how bad York is.
Is it any wonder our own students are disconnected? Or that turnout at our student elections is so low? Or that our students and their families are voting with their feet? Our public face is not demonstrating the core values a university should stand for:
- Freedom of speech – especially for those with whom we disagree
- Mutual Respect
- Being able to teach — and learn — without disruption
- Being open to other ideas and other people.
- And yes, social justice.
So far so good? It reads mostly like typical university motherhood- and-apple-pie type statements. Except I quite vehemently disagree about social justice. I wish every course that mentions this term could be struck from university catalogs. And then the tone continues to change as more biases creep in:
But we cannot demand social justice only for ourselves and for those who think like us. Social justice is for everyone, or it is for no one. York has a history of social activism, but the events of the past weeks — intimidation and shouting each other down — have nothing to do with social activism.
Now I begin to disagree even more. No matter what people say, whenever they use the term "social justice", they typically mean a redistribution of wealth and political power. The use of this term so much by a university president bothers me. But read on.
That is why I am asking you today, as Senators and key representatives of the academy, to make your voices heard and say, “enough is enough.”
I want to give a couple of examples of how the academy can contribute to open dialogue on tough issues. At other universities in this province, faculty members participate as guest speakers at lecture series organized by student clubs. These events tackle the very same issues we are struggling with:
- Racial profiling
- Overcoming stereotypes
Oops. Islamophobia exists because the major terrorists of concern are Muslims, not because of any racism. And racial stereotyping makes some sense if only the people from a particular racial group are those who are most likely to carry out some heinous crime. These things are not at all the same thing as anti-Semitism or discrimination in general. If the odds are high that only people from a specific group are likely to kill, bomb, or otherwise terrorize people, then it makes sense for security forces to pay special attention to people from that group.
And why, oh why, is Islamophobia mentioned first on that list, when the problem at York University has been attacks on Jewish students (and others) who oppose the bombing of Israel by Hamas?
Let me repeat: Islamaphobia is not at all in the same category as Anti-Semitism. That the York prez lumps them together is quite revealing about his biases.
The goal is not agreement or endorsement of each others’ ideas, it is to create safe spaces where people can come together to articulate their views — without fear and without being shouted down.
I’ll give you another example happening right here at York. Next week, the York Centre for International and Security Studies is hosting an event that will examine the idea of academic boycotts. Speakers will explore the topic in a reasoned way in an academic forum. These two examples share one common element: faculty involvement.
After having read the rest of the speech, I am very skeptical about the nature of this conference. It seems like such an open-and-shut case that boycotts (like those proposed by the British UCU or by the Ontario branch of CUPE) should not take place.