alt-action: Letter to Provost regarding Notice on ‘obstruction of campus facilities and classrooms’

To see the letter and add your name as a signatory see:

The text is reproduced below:

Dear Provost Graham:

We wish to bring to your attention our concerns about the notice of Friday, 23 March, regarding the “Obstruction of campus facilities and classrooms.” In our view, the shift of policy represented in this document is an unwarranted act of escalation on the administration’s part, and one that has already begun to foster avoidable confrontations between security staff and students. In addition, the new policy violates the spirit of the Code of Conduct, whose primary purpose (Code of Rights and Responsibilities, §V, 26) is to “promote and protect the values of civility, equity, respect, non-discrimination, and an appreciation of diversity as manifested within the University.” Finally, in asking faculty to adopt and implement the administration’s hostile stance towards protesting students, this policy jeopardizes in the name of expediency the relationship between faculty members and students that is at the core of Concordia’s educational mission.

Recent incidents demonstrate that the change of policy signaled in the 23 March notice has needlessly and counterproductively inflamed a hitherto civil and stable situation.  While many students have followed the course of protest, including pickets, for which they have have voted democratically through their various associations, many faculty have managed to accommodate protesting and non-protesting students. Yet the administration has now resorted to threats of prosecution, and in at least one case – as reported in the Montreal Gazette and other news media – to physical force. This policy has turned an inevitably tense but workable environment into one of open hostility. It is particularly frustrating that the administration has offered no clear rationale for its change of tack, and no plan for dealing with the possible outcomes.

Besides showing a lack of respect for the democratic process through which student associations have taken up their positions, the new policy is at odds with both the spirit and the letter of the university’s own Code of Conduct. In particular, the instruction that faculty contact the Security Department directly if “access to classes or facilities… is impeded” or classes themselves “disrupted” dramatically lowers the standard for involving security officers in interactions with students, tending (as we have already seen) to escalate rather than defuse conflicts. In comparison, the Code of Conduct only stipulates that faculty members contact Security when “faced with an urgent situation involving threatening or violent conduct” (Code of Rights and Responsibilities, §IX, 116). “Threatening or violent conduct” is defined in the same document (§V, 28(f)) as conduct that “endangers or threatens the health, safety or well-being” of members of the community. We do not believe that student boycotts, protest or picketing meet that definition.

Most troubling to us as faculty members is the corrosive effect the new policy will have on our relationships with our students. In being tasked by the administration with enforcing a security policy alien both to the Code of Conduct and to the administration’s original stance on the protests (as laid out on page 3 of the document of 12 March, “Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Student Protests”), the faculty are put in an untenable position: having to maintain pedagogical relationships with students that are built, over the long term, upon trust, while at the same time helping to curtail these students’ political expression for the administration’s short-term convenience. Again, this is a tactic destined to produce rather than eliminate conflict, and in a pedagogical context the damage it introduces cannot easily be undone. Further, inasmuch as the duties of faculty members (as set out in the current Collective Agreement, art.16.01 (a-c)) are limited to research, teaching, and service, enforcing the administration’s stance on the protests – as opposed to following the Code of Conduct – is not something we can be compelled to do.

In view of the already harmful and potentially disastrous effects of the new policy on campus life, on the freedom of students to express their views in an open and democratic manner, and on the capacity of the faculty to maintain the effective pedagogical relationships that should be the university’s central concern, we ask that the policy outlined in the 23 March notice be suspended.

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