Concordia University threatens to systematically charge students who participate in peaceful protest against the tuition fee increase
Yesterday, over 200,000 students, parents, faculty members and citizens marched peacefully in the streets of Montreal against the Charest government’s unjust and unjustifiable tuition fee increase. After students successfully orchestrated the largest demonstration in the province’s history, it appears that some university administrators have resorted to extreme and heavy-handed intimidation tactics in an attempt to quell student unrest.
Today, Concordia University has taken a dangerous and irresponsible step by stating that it will begin to systematically charge students who actively participate in the student strike at Concordia under the University’s Code of Rights and Responsibilities. Consequences for students charged under the Code include fines, suspension, and the possibility of permanent expulsion.
The statement sent out by the University today intentionally mischaracterizes the nature of student action at the University by painting picketing students as aggressive or dangerous. In reality, protest on campus has been consistently characterized by its lighthearted, peaceful, and creative nature, with very few incidents in these politically turbulent times.
The University’s statement is deliberately calculated to intimidate students through vague references to “impeding,” “blocking,” or “obstruction” of university spaces. Students have been informed repeatedly that crossing a picket line is a moral decision, and discouraged from doing so, but it is an extremely small minority of students who have been actually physically blocked from classrooms. The GSA and CSU anticipate that hundreds of innocent students could be charged within a week under this policy.
The position taken by Concordia University on this issue is dangerous to students. The Office of Rights and Responsibilities deals with a variety of extremely serious complaints regarding behaviour on campus, including harassment, sexual assault, abuse and other potentially criminal activity. A flood of complaints about peaceful student demonstrations will invariably mean that legitimate and serious complaints by victims are delayed or pushed aside.
Gabrielle Bouchard, Executive External of the Women’s Studies Association of Concordia, said, “Picketing students who have been subject to verbal abuse or even violence by students not abiding by strike votes have predominantly been women. Many feel reluctant to report this to the University because of their perceived, and now explicit bias. This statement will worsen that problem and will embolden students who have behaved inappropriately to students who choose to protest peacefully. Moreover, the procedures around the Code of Rights and Responsibilities are called upon to deal with serious issues such as harassment, sexual harassment and assault and the process is already slow. Now these students will face even longer delays because the administration has chosen to use the Code in a politically motivated way.”
As always, the CSU and GSA will do our utmost to defend any student charged under the Code, and if necessary we will hire additional staff to deal with any backlog in our respective Advocacy Centres.
These intimidation tactics and heavy-handed crackdowns from the University mean the strike is increasingly effective. Students and their associations will not back down from their legitimate position in favour of accessible education and their collective right to strike. However, both the CSU and GSA will hold the administration responsible for escalating what has so far been a relatively calm, democratic and orderly situation. After wasting tens of millions of dollars of public and student money on golden parachutes and incompetent management, Concordia’s administration has no moral authority to claim that the democratic will of student assemblies is illegitimate.
“As a faculty member, I feel that this approach by the administration is counterproductive,” said Eric Shragge, Associate Professor and Principal of the Concordia School of Community and Public Affairs. “If they wish to resolve the situation they should be using their influence with the provincial government to encourage them to negotiate with student groups.” A recent poll by Crop shows that 78% of Quebec citizens want the government to begin to negotiate with students on the tuition fee increase.