Dr. Dawg

Carleton U. kids get lesson in demockracy

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Readers will recall the demonstration at Carleton University a few days ago, in which students, blocked from attending their own Board of Governors meeting, prevented some governors from attending as well. The meeting was cancelled, and will now take place by conference call.

I’m deliberately not going to talk about the issue that called them forth—you can follow the link for yourselves. Carleton President Roseann Runte has chosen to make process the issue instead. So be it.

She issued a threatening edict yesterday. It concludes:

We have a fair system of governance. Students are represented on the Board of Governors, the Faculty Senate and the councils of the various faculties. It is not the privilege of any group to threaten to stop the work of the university. If any individual or group does not like the result of the serious deliberations of these bodies, there remains the right to make this point of view known in a respectful and peaceful fashion. This is absolutely essential. Our community is diverse in culture and thought. We must all respect each other and permit each other to work and study on the campus in safety. [emphases added]

I blinked when I saw that, and grew instantly nostalgic, remembering the liberal constitution of the former USSR. In my mind, I could hear a Communist apparatchik intoning these words from the stage as some wretch who took that constitution too seriously was dragged off to his chilly fate.

Let’s re-cap. The students had a burning issue about the Carleton pension fund. They followed their Civics 101 primer, drafted a motion, and obtained support from some 25 campus clubs, the Graduate Students’ Association and the union representing teaching assistants. They obtained 1,000 signatures on a petition, and 2,000 letters of support.

They brought the matter to their own students’ council, and won their main points there, even if they didn’t get all the wording they wanted. Then they decided to go to the governing body of their university.

Students have representatives on their Board of Governors, just as President Runte says. So, following protocol, one of those representatives submitted the motion to the BOG Politburo Executive Committee to have it placed upon the next meeting of the BOG.

“No way,” said the Executive Committee. “Talk to Vice-President (Finance and Administration) Duncan Watt if you have something to say.”

“[T]he Board itself will not be considering the divestment issue any further,” said Watt.

There’s a name for all this in sociology: structural violence. Runte’s “fair system of governance” did not permit students, going through all of the prescribed channels, to argue their case. Their representatives on the governing board were not allowed to place their issue on the agenda, so no “serious deliberations” took place. The “right to make [their] point of view known in a respectful and peaceful fashion” could be exercised in the washroom, one presumes, or in the privacy of their own homes. “We must all respect each other” must ring particularly hollow for a group of people so profoundly disrespected.

The response? Some dancing and chanting, and some blocking of the path to elevators. What else could the students do, having exhausted all of the institutional avenues supposedly available to them?

“Shame,” says a loyal kommissar dean, duly echoing the party line by denouncing the students.

Right word, wrong target. President Runte, tear down this wall.

[H/t reader Craig]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on April 5, 2011 10:07 AM.

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