We don't need no thought control
January 25, 2005 9:04 PM   Subscribe

As we saw last spring, Toronto's York University has limited the student's right to protest, here noted by Excalibur, York's largest student newspaper. The Toronto Star's article on last Thursday's peaceful anti-Bush protest complete with police intervention (video here, try this if that doesn't work) sparked a reaction by the York University Faculty Association. YUFA also remarked on the restriction of freedom of expression by York's administration. The administration has released two press releases so far, the first on the day of the protest, and the second to emphasize the students' responsibilities and limits. The protest has sparked plans of further protests and reports that the protest was misrepresented in the press. CUPE 3903 wrote an open letter to the administration criticizing their actions (PDF, p.11), and compared the situation to Berkeley's Free Speech Movement in the 60s.
posted by heatherann (22 comments total)
If I were superman, I'd have pissed on Bush's head during the innauguration.
posted by VP_Admin at 9:29 PM on January 25, 2005

MetaFilter: An open letter to the administration criticizing their actions.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:48 PM on January 25, 2005

If I were superman, I'd have pissed on Bush's head during the innauguration.

Wow, I guess that's part of the whole "Lets prove that anti-war liberals love freedom more than conservatives by taking up the cause of "consentual crimes" reform" movement?

You're a real prize VP_Admin. Got any good poop stories.
posted by Witty at 10:22 PM on January 25, 2005

Wow, excalibur's webdesign has gone very down hill since I was at York.

Also, this is all about a rally of 300 students...at a campus with 45,000 undergraduates.

Now, ban cell phone use on campus - then you will see real student activism.

NB: I love York, but political activists are a tiny (but very loud) minority. Elections had difficulty getting a 15% turn-out - if there had been any quorum rules, we would never had a student council. Maybe that would have been a good thing, made students realise what the YFS did or did not do for them.

Also, the space they were demonstrating in is surrounded by classrooms and offices. It's not a appropriate place to hold a demonstration during office hours or class times. There are other places on campus, but none are as central, or as warm (all outside).

posted by jb at 10:34 PM on January 25, 2005

After looking at pictures of Vari Hall, I think York got a huge problem on its hands the moment they accepted that design. It has a massive central indoor space adjacent to rooms which are supposed to be quiet enough to study and conduct lectures in. They should have foreseen problems with noisy events in the rotunda disturbing the adjacent parts of the building, and designed an effective barrier between the large open indoor space (probably necessary in a northern climate) and classrooms. Until they do something like that, they're going to run into the same kind of trouble in the rotunda again.

That said, the York police don't seem to understand that whatever good they did by stopping the people with the megaphones is far outweighed by the negative publicity they generated. Reputation is an enormous asset for an academic institution and to damage it so massively by violently dispersing a noisy event is really shooting yourself in the foot. Particularly for a liberal arts-heavy institution that York is.
posted by azazello at 10:50 PM on January 25, 2005

Vari Hall really a very beautiful space - one of the very few pleasant spaces on the campus, and certainly the best building. Normal traffic noise was not a problem - some students would even study on the second floor. For a warm, but well lit place to eat lunch on an otherwise frozen, bleak and windswept campus (NB: Never use Californian campus design in Canada), it can't be beat.
posted by jb at 11:18 PM on January 25, 2005

Yeah, what I mean is that a big space like that will eventually be used by noisy crowds for noisy events, whether you want it or not, especially in winter. So it's not good design to situate a lot of studying/office space right next to it with no means of blocking the noise.

Although Berkeley has lots of open outdoor space warm enough to be noisy in most of the time, protesters still run into trouble in big indoor spaces (Sproul and Wheeler main halls). The point is, I think, if you're designing a big indoor space, you'd better make sure a noisy event in it can't disturb a lot of people nearby. Which goes against the much advertised ideal of open collaborative public space or whatever, but makes a lot of sense to me - most of the open hall space directly adjacent to work areas probably shouldn't be bigger than a large living room. Huge entry halls are beautiful, but should be well isolated from the rest of the building.
posted by azazello at 11:51 PM on January 25, 2005

Too bad Mario Savio isn't still around to lay the smack down...
posted by black8 at 11:57 PM on January 25, 2005

I'm amazed that nobody has mentioned the irony of a Canadian (ie, non-US) school protesting the interventionist foreign policy of Bush and demanding his removal. I mean, isn't that a bit of an interventionist foreign policy?

That said, Berkeley as part of the Cal system actually has some speech-restrictive Speech Codes.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 12:05 AM on January 26, 2005

Wow, things haven't changed much since I left York....

I can see both points here, and I'm torn. On the one hand, students should be able to protest and exercise their right to free speech in a public space (assuming, for the sake of argument, that a university building such as Vari Hall can be considered a public space). On the other hand, York does have a responsibility to ensure the students sitting in classrooms -- including all around the public space at Vari Hall -- are receiving a quality education. I'm not surprised York is calling the cops in to demonstrations now, given the history of unrest at the school. Not sure I agree with it, but I'm not surprised.

I do think both the York administration and the more, uh, active activists of the university (professional protesters, as a classmate once called them) need to find different ways of doing things. Yes, shutting down a demonstration with police is harsh. Then again, disrupting classes and taking over a vital university space -- it's also a thoroughfare, after all -- for an anti-Bush protest is a little questionable. I'm no fan of Lorna Marsden and the York administration, but I'm also not a fan of those who are deliberately confrontational toward the administration and their fellow students. Maybe I'd be more sympathetic if the demonstration was directly connected to an education issue at York -- I took part in the t.a. strike there, after all -- but I don't think complaining about Bush merits this level of disruption.

But hey, I wasn't there. Fill me in if I'm missing something.
posted by showmethecalvino at 12:14 AM on January 26, 2005

(professional protesters, as a classmate once called them)

A nice way of putting it, showmethecalvino. I can hardly think of a more vacuous and bothersome demographic than that of so-called "professional protesters"--a fixture of most North American campuses. Too often the carte blanche of activism sanctions the worst kind of mob behavior. I'm convinced most professional protesters are plugging a deep personality vacuum, or perhaps compensating for a collegiate crisis of identity by rallying under some righteous flag or other. And the nastiest trick: if you open your mouth against their rah-rah insipidity, you are undoubtedly an enemy of the cause, a bona fide bad person-and worse: an enemy of freedom of expression.

I wasn't at this particular protest, so I can't be sure if it was, in fact, populated by this particularly vapid species whose universal trademark is the Che Guvera souvenirs, but the theme ("Anti-Bush" protest?) certainly suggests it. (I highly recommend attending these events and matter-of-factly quizzing some of the protesters about the Bush administration for a hilarious afternoon out.)

Ok, I wasn't there. Maybe the administration reacted over-aggressively. Maybe freedom of expression on campus is seriously endangered. I'm on dial-up, so streaming the videos is not an option. I'm never comfortable with the idea of the administration and the police holding hands. But maybe, if I was sitting in a classroom besides one of those protests, maybe--just maybe--I'd be secretly cheering for the cops.
posted by ori at 2:18 AM on January 26, 2005

I have little respect for the protest community at York. They believe in Free Speech only when it suits them. My personal experience with them dates back to a time when York's faculty was on strike. A group of moderate students had organized an information session and protest that was not anti-faculty or anti-administration, but pro-student. The leftie protest groups who believed the only possible valid position was anti-administration, pro-faculty, came out, shouted us down, hijacked our event and kept students from getting the information. This group would contain different people by now, but I have little doubt that their traditional inability to understand the concept of free speech remains.

Some comment on the Toronto Livejournal Community about the protest (much of the discussion is lousy, but the first posts are worth reading): 1, 2, 3
posted by jacquilynne at 5:11 AM on January 26, 2005

I'm not sure yet how to take what's going on at the school. I've got one professor telling us to get involved and basically equating it with the Free Speech Movement. It does seem disturbing that the administration out-right banned the use of Vari Hall and doesn't communicate very well with the student body. I wasn't there last Thursday, but I also see that there are students who will protest anything and I'm not really comfortable jumping on bandwagons.

I find it interesting that YUFA is unhappy with what's going on -- with the administration, not the protestors -- seeing that it's their classes that are being disrupted.
posted by heatherann at 6:16 AM on January 26, 2005

The weird activist political back-and-forth at York was never something I completely understood. I mean, obviously a university should be a place that encourages free speech and a variety of viewpoints (the motto is "The way must be tried," isn't it? Yeah. "Tentanda via.") It almost always seemed to me that there were some people that were just blinding yelling and shouting and postering up the viewpoints they'd decided to put a deathgrip on, and no real dialogue occuring between the most vocal segments of the student body. I dunno. Maybe the cold weather made me cynical.

The administration does, absolutely, seem to dip its fingers into the day-to-day activities of activist organizations at York, though. No one likes it. However, the easily politicized atmosphere up there (I say 'up' because it's on the north boundary of Toronto proper) is fairly common knowledge to anyone in academia or even anyone who reads the paper in Toronto. It's how it's been for a long time, I'm told. No big deal. Life will go on. I'm glad to see the Senate is taking a bit of a stand though.
posted by blacklite at 6:27 AM on January 26, 2005

jaquilynne, there's also a York University livejournal community which looks like it might have a few interesting threads... I actually started it, when I had a livejournal, before passing it off to a couple other people who had more time.
posted by blacklite at 6:29 AM on January 26, 2005

York does have a responsibility to ensure the students sitting in classrooms... ...are receiving a quality education.

Surely a strike lasting several months and the subsequent pathetic attempt to fit a semester in a fraction of its allotted time, without so much as a tuition rebate to make up for it, have put to rest the myth of York's responsibility to students.
posted by Krrrlson at 5:45 PM on January 26, 2005

Krrlson - and despite all that, we still were screwed less after the last TA strike (11 weeks) than UofT's students were after their only 4-week TA strike. I know - I went through one, and my boyfriend (now fiance) was caught in the other.

York does do a great job of teaching - especially the faculty. I feel like I had a better undergrad education in History there than most of the undergrads get at Yale (well, that's mostly because they're stuck with me as a possible T.A., but there was seriously way more thought given to curriculum and effective teaching there). I really appreciate that place, nasty miles of parking lots, differences over strikes and wind from the cold cold ass of Satan aside.

jaquilynne, I came only in 1998, and so missed the faculty strike, but I'm not surprised at your story. Things could get so with us or against us with the protester types there - I just tried to avoid it all in the 2001 strike. The sad/strange thing most people wouldn't know just from reading the news is that the activists are this tiny little froth on this great big calm sea of the most consistent student apathy I have ever known. If the majority of the student body at York ever started to actually care about something other than getting their credits and getting out , they could probably change the rotational speed of the earth with their weight. But they don't, and things go on as always.
posted by jb at 7:32 PM on January 26, 2005

I feel like I had a better undergrad education in History there than most of the undergrads get at Yale...

I presume you've been to both and can vouch for that, seeing as how few share your opinion?
posted by Krrrlson at 6:19 PM on January 27, 2005

No, I went to the first and teach at the second. Many people don't understand that prestige or a high research rating =! quality of teaching, especially as the most prestigious of professors are required to do the least amount of teaching.

At York, I only ever had two history T.A.s - the eight other history courses (out of a total of 20 for my B.A.) were either small enough to not require sections, or I had the professor as section leader. Here, some professors refuse to take sections, even though they are suposed to (my advisor actually takes two, something which I really respect about him). It does make a great difference in quality of teaching; no matter how good I am or am not, I am only a graduate student and I am teaching outside of my field - how can that compare to a full Ph.D. teaching in their field?

But more importantly, the history department at York is a leader in teaching; they give a great deal of thought to curriculum development, and their methods have since been adopted for the whole of the Faculty of Arts at York. Whereas Yale simply offers a disorganised grab-bag of History courses, with no sense of developing skills or deepening your knowledge through the course of the program. There are no historical methodology courses, little attention to methodology or historiography within the courses, and very little specialisation.

I don't know if all programs have these problems - I know my own discipline best. But I am quite serious when I say that I am seriously disapointed at the quality of education at a suposedly high quality school. The opportunities the students are offered here can be astounding, but the quality of the undergraduate curriculum is very touch and go. I wouldn't presume to judge research (since that is very field dependent), but in terms of teaching quality (having been a student in both places), I would say the faculty of both institutions are very much on par.
posted by jb at 2:53 PM on January 30, 2005

In other news, a friend of mine thinks the same thing about Cambridge University and the University of Toronto. Perhaps the Canadian system has just given us standards that are too high.
posted by jb at 3:01 PM on January 30, 2005

who passed the law that made protesting not matter?
posted by nanojath at 8:04 PM on February 24, 2005

posted by shmegegge at 3:46 AM on February 25, 2005

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