Text of my speech from today’s amazing demonstration (pardon some of the odd punctuation–it’s for timing)

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.

→ The police attack happened as protesters from the occupy movement were getting beat down in Berkeley.

→ It happened as the Euro is in crisis, as personal and national debt skyrockets across the West.

→ 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.

→ 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.

→ 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.

9 replies on “Text of my speech from today’s amazing demonstration (pardon some of the odd punctuation–it’s for timing)”

  1. Prof Sterne,

    My spouse is an admirer of yours as well as a MUNACA member. I have no words about this Administration, but shame on them.

    More professors and students need to speak out and get these fine people back to work. Amongst them; they are mothers and fathers of students, they are McGill alumnus, they are loyal McGillians some with 40+yrs of service……and they are the people that care for the needs of all students.

    The Principal, a very well accomplished and distinguished women in her pofessional life, has yet to take responsibility for anything that has occured since the begining of the strike and since the police essentially ‘overthrew’ the campus. There is an incredible disconnect.

    As the head of this University, ultimately, it is her responsibility for what occurs to the students, faculty and STAFF. She has shown great hypocricy with her words and lack of action, specifically where MUNACA is concerned. Injunctions? Safety concerns? Has she met the majority of those on the line – many of whom are women?

    As an outsider, it can plainly be seen that there are too many Executives and Management and that, at over inflated salaries. How can they, in one breath cry poor, and in the other benefit from hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in their own pockets; notwithstanding the renovations and $10k television?

    How can she say in one sentence that she will pay whatever it takes to get the best of the best; but do her best to pay the least to people whom do much for the University? Again, I re-iterate, many of whom are McGill graduates.

    As the Principal, as a woman, as a mother and as a child from hardship – SHAME on her for allowing these people to be treated with disrespect and as second class citizens. I can’t imagine amongst all of her accomplishments that being honest, righteous and equitable are not among the ones she should have and prioritize.


    Lisa Di Michele, CITP

  2. Prof. Sterne,
    Thank you for supporting the students and my friends in MUNACA.
    Hubert De Souza (ex MUNACA member)

  3. Dear Professor Sterne,
    I am the munaca/mcgill member for the Department of East Asian Studies. I just read your letter and I am in awe! Thank you for having the courage to speak out and let your opinion be heard. I agree with you and we must work together! Many, many thanks. Angela Lapenna

  4. Thank you Prof. Sterne and MFLAG for your continued support. I cannot put into words how much this means to me and my MUNACA family. I am a picket captain at the Mac Campus but call CaPS downtown my “home” where also live a wonderfully supportive team who regularly reach out to me and my other colleague posted downtown. How ever this all ends, MUNACA, faculty, students, TAs and casual workers have set in motion a wave to challenge the status quo which can no longer be ignored. In Solidarity!

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