The images were spectacular. Massive property damages. Masked students running rampant. A pavilion ransacked. Riot police called in for reinforcement by UQAM’s administration. The perfect recipe for creating a stir.
If it’s true that violence cannot be tolerated, it is also true that the anger bubbling up within this large university is no accident. It can be partially explained by the breach of trust evident between administrators and a growing portion of the university community.
And yet, this anger is also the product of the government itself radicalising in the face of any open questioning of its austerity politics. By rejecting any real social dialogue, the government breeds discontent among those who haven’t the slightest chance of being heard.
Above all, the crisis at UQAM brutally reflects the authoritarian climate that winds up killing public debate.
At a time when unbridled anti-intellectualism and populism are mounting, this simplistic polarisation of society into “good” vs. “evil” is easier than ever. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →