This article is written on behalf of the Socialist Fightback Students club regarding McMaster University’s recently released documents on freedom of expression. Socialist Fightback Students defends the rights of students to form collective actions, freely express their political opinions and protest those who spread hateful messages.
In the document by McMaster’s ad hoc committee on protest and freedom of expression, censorship against students is described as “not an option” for the university. However, nowhere in these documents is there any mention of the disruptive role that the university has played in censoring the free speech of students. At the heart of the matter, this omission shows the bad faith that these anti-disruption guidelines were written in.
Events put on by the Fightback Students club have been disrupted by the university. The administration has sent security surveillance, kicked people out of these events and threatened community members with trespassing charges. It’s not just our club; the administration has harassed students who have fought against racism, the smoking ban and other issues affecting the everyday lives of students.
The ad hoc committee recommends that the university should not limit any speech that is not illegal, even if it is considered “offensive and odious.” Yet the guidelines for protests document argues for the limiting of freedom of expression when the organization of students and community members threatens the privileged position of the administration.
The administration knows that the mass movement of students and workers would challenge the very foundation of their positions.
The guidelines document goes into great detail on what kinds of actions are too disruptive for the functioning of the university. They do not ensure students are able to use their free speech for political expression, protest, or collective action. Instead, the goal is to limit protest to what the administration finds acceptable. As a result, there is no criticism of the University itself.
Patrick Deane has a salary of $387,287.20 in salary earnings and $22,999.76 in benefits. Other high-level administrators have similar earnings. These exorbitant salaries and benefits are built on the backs of students paying ever-increasing tuition rates and an army of precarious workers being paid lower and lower wages.
Recently we have seen movements against these top-level bureaucrats. The Ontario College workers held a strike earlier this year for better wages and conditions. CUPE 3903 is on strike as this is being written and across Ontario there is a growing student movement for free education.
The administration knows that the mass movement of students and workers would challenge the very foundation of their positions. The anti-disruption document shows that the goal of the administration is not to ensure free speech. They do not address the policies that have led to a climate of censorship on campus that has taken the form of racial and political profiling. Neither of these documents scrutinized the university’s censorship and disruption.
Instead, students face the brunt of the university administration’s’ efforts to strengthen its power. But we should not expect the university to present a fair document to us. An unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy cannot stand for the interests of students. To truly represent the interests of students the president, security and all leading administrators would democratically have elected by and accountable to the students, faculty and staff of the university.
To achieve this goal, it will be necessary to build a different system of university. Students need a university system that democratically serves the interest of students.
We need mass action through student and worker strikes. The administration is taking a stand against any speech that will impede on the “regular academic and administrative business of the University”. As the CUPE 3903 and Quebec Student strikes show, this is inherent in the fight for a more equitable university system.
We should not feel helpless or detached in the face of these types of policies. They affect all of us, but we can face them if we organize together. Democratic control by students and workers is not going to occur without us organizing towards a student strike.
The need to organize will only increase. Students face poor employment opportunities, rising tuition costs, rising living costs and austerity measures from all levels of government. The situation for students and workers is increasingly desperate. Not organizing is not an option.
Yet the policies and guidelines put forward in the anti-disruption guidelines are meant to ensure that student and worker organizing does not challenge the administration. Under the guise of protecting freedom of expression, student and worker rights are threatened. But the need for genuine democracy and free education remains and students and workers will have no choice but to organize.