By Various (group text)
Originally published on March 26, 2015
See original French text here: http://www.ledevoir.com/societe/education/435441/derive-autoritaire-a-l-uqam
Since the establishment of the first universities in Europe, students have mobilized around academic and social problems, such as the cost of rent. Student activism is not new. Strikes, occupations, and event disruptions have been part and parcel of university life, including at UQAM. Often, these collective actions have been at the forefront of progressive causes working towards social justice: feminism, pacifism, the environmental movement, amongst others.
Historically, university administrations have been relatively tolerant towards activist initiatives, including occupations, some of which lasted as long as six months (like at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1968). In the 2000s, administrators began to change their approach, choosing to quickly call the police, who have intervened in a brutal way, as has been the case at UQAM (not to mention at the UQO and the University of Montreal in 2012, among other examples). This conscious change is part of a broader tendency on the part of authority figures to be more and more repressive towards social movements. They jump on a few isolated incidents to justify an increase in repressive measures. In line with this tendency, UQAM’s administration increasingly prefers the repressive tactics of intimidation and institutional violence. This has important costs (security cameras and extra “security” guards) and contributes to the degradation of the social climate on a campus that is well known for its community and activist environment. And yet, there is no academic consensus about the effects of repression on social movements. Some studies show that repression weakens mobilization efforts, while other reports show that repression provokes increased mobilization and a radicalization of activists.
A few weeks ago, a handful of professors at UQAM and members of its senior administration turned to the media to denounce violence and intimidation by students (echoing Jean Charest in 2012). This communication strategy, launched as the current student strike was still in its preparation phase, gave a CAQ Member of the National Assembly the opportunity to assert that a “culture of radical anarchy” (sic) has overtaken UQAM and to ask the Minister of Public Safety how she planned to re-establish “security” on campus. The faculty and staff members also managed to excoriate campus democracy, putting them in line with a curious media tendency to criticize the working of assemblies when they vote to strike, but to say nothing at all when they reject strike action.
Friday, March 20 saw an unforeseen development. Nine students received certified letters summoning them to the Executive Committee to respond to accusations of disciplinary infractions. Security Services recommended suspension for a year in some cases, and expulsions in others. What were the accusations? Rowdiness during class strikes, and disturbing public events. What is still up for debate is why they decided to focus on such isolated cases, what actually occurred, and the importance of the debate currently occurring at UQAM, including by way of activist activities.
It’s not the first time that the administration has tried to ban activists from campus, and previous attempts have done nothing but punish targeted individuals, despite collective activities. Problematic in any case, these measures are particularly suspect in this case:
No proportionality: Why expel students without having first given them warnings? The use of extreme measures is cruel for students, as it may ruin their university career and compromise their future professional goals (not to mention the effect it has on their social relationships).
No urgency: Some of the accusations made occurred in spring of 2014 and even in January 2013, more than two years ago! Why crack down now?
Political exploitation: Only the current political situation, the nascent student strike, can explain the apparent desire to neutralize activist members of the student movement. We are witnessing a political exploitation of disciplinary measures (reminiscent of the preventive arrests of the Germinal group two days before the Summit of the Americas in 2001, of the 17 anarchist “bosses” in Toronto in 2010, and of a dozen activists the morning of the F1 Grand Prix in Montreal in 2012). Despite the fact that the activities at the heart of the accusations were carried out by several dozen people, the administration has chosen to target individuals who occupy positions in their student associations and even those who represent students in the highest university bodies at UQAM. It is certainly practical to silence the voices of students in powerful university arenas during a student strike and while collective agreements are being negotiated.
Hit hard to inspire fear: At the same moment, the administration sent an email to the entire student body warning against any disturbances during the strike, including preventing entry to struck classes. This is a threatening tone without precedent in UQAM’s history. The nine expulsions are also a form of exemplary punishment to frighten all striking students, as is the deployment of additional “security” guards who nose about around campus (including in student association assemblies), follow and intimidate somewhat everyone, refuse to reveal their identity, and make sexist statements towards female students (“Hey, baby!”).
It is distressing to see that the administration has taken this authoritarian approach that goes against the tradition of UQAM, which has until now maintained a freer environment than that which is found in our greater disciplinarian society. We wish to disassociate ourselves completely from the public relations campaign that claims that chaos reigns on campus, and we ask that the UQAM administration maintain self-control and prioritize dialogue (even when difficult) rather than repression. We ask, in any case, that it return to a spirit of openness towards student activism. This will allow UQAM to stand out positively from the increasingly repressive tendencies of other Quebec authority figures. This will require, to be sure, giving up on a kind of desire for power and cruelty that is celebrated only by the powerful and by supporters of law and order, at the expense of those more vulnerable (in this case, our students).
To conclude, let us highlight a political paradox: the administration is repressing students who are mobilizing against austerity policies that are a real threat to our institution.
*Text signed by some fifty professors and instructors at UQAM, including Marcos Ancelovici, Rémi Bachand, Isabelle Baez, Dany Beaupré, Marrie-Pierre Boucher, Rachel Chagnon, Line Chamberland, Jawaher Chourou, Marc-André Cyr, Anne-Marie D’Aoust, Martine Delvaux, Stall Dinaïg, Francis Dupuis-Déri, Alain-G Gagnon. See the complete list of signatories here.
Translated from the original French by Language and Dissent, a collectively-run blog supporting the anti-austerity struggle in Quebec. These are amateur translations written by volunteers; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may have their flaws. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us via email (languageanddissent [at] gmail [dot] com). Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.