My name is Jonathan Sterne, I am a professor in Art History and Communication Studies and I am a member of MFLAG.
First of all, I want to thank everyone who demonstrated for access to education in Quebec last Thursday. I stand with you, and I especially stand with those of you who were hurt, herded or terrorized by the riot police. You did not deserve that.
Let’s consider the meaning of riot police appearing on campus for the first time since 1969. This is a truly exceptional event.
â†’ The police attack happened as protesters from the occupy movement were getting beat down in Berkeley.
â†’ It happened as the Euro is in crisis, as personal and national debt skyrockets across the West.
â†’ It happened as higher education is being defunded worldwide, as students are being asked to shoulder ever-increasing debt burdens for their educations, while their futures are ever-more uncertain.
â†’ It happened after more than two months of a strike by the people who make this school run. Our 1700 colleagues in MUNACA are some of the least-well compensated employees on campus.
â†’ It happened after Heather Munroe-Blum, along with university presidents across Canada, signed a new national accord that dangerously limits academic freedom and freedom of speech at universities across our country.
One of the administration’s first responses to the MUNACA strike was to bring in more security, and to give them a more visible presence on campus. They followed with an injunction that threatened police action against union demonstrators who disobeyed it. These are escalation tactics, and they carry a threat of violence with them. Violence begets more violence. They need to de-escalate.
The student movement, the MUNACA strike, and the fight to preserve academic freedom are all parts of a struggle to maintain basic, decent standards of higher education worldwide. Our crisis is part of the fallout from the great bank heist of 2008. Our situation is a subset of the conditions pointed to every day by the worldwide occupy protesters. But defunding is also a result of misplaced governmental priorities.
As we think about next moves, we will need to take time to heal. It won’t be easy. I’m angry and I suppose many of you are too. We are going to have to be the grown-ups here. The administration has commissioned a toothless and top-down inquiry. Neither the principal nor the provost has sent a letter of condolence and support to the students and faculty brutalized last week. They continue to escalate the conflict by bringing in more security and locking students and faculty out of the James Administration building.
Normally, this is where I would say the first principle of nonviolence is de-escalation. And it is and we should remember that. Because we are angry, we must hold ourselves to higher standards. But instead, let me say this.
In a moment of attacks on academic freedom and freedom of speech, let’s exercise those rights like they matter.
In the face of administrative inaction, we should escalate our commitments to one another.
Let’s escalate our commitment to fair compensation for our colleagues in MUNACA.
Let’s escalate our pressure on government to fund universities well enough that anyone can attend, and that everyone who works in one can be fairly compensated.
Let’s escalate our demands from a tuition freeze to demands for better public schools and real university-readiness programs for kids who might not otherwise get to attend.
I believe in nonviolent protest, even when it is met with state violence.
I believe in the protesters,
and I believe in my students.
Believe in yourselves, and let’s work to right the course for this university, in this province and in the world.