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Administration tries to mask its own incompetence

Rector approved Netanyahu's lecture over objections of advisers and police

This article was written by member of the Concordia Student Union Executive. Their names are at the end.
The Montreal Gazette novembre 2002

Two vice-presidents on the Concordia Student Union executive, Yves Engler and Aaron Maté, are among 12 present and former students who have been charged under the university's regulatory code for alleged offences committed at the anti-Netanyahu protests of Sept. 9 and in days since. They will each receive a formal hearing that we are confident will clear them of any wrongdoing. This opportunity will not be granted to four non-students, who have been banned outright from campus for five years.

We are convinced that these charges have less to do with any offences that have been committed than with a student union that has often found itself in opposition to Concordia's authorities. This includes not just the administration of Rector Frederick Lowy, but his bosses on Concordia's board of governors - an unelected body of mostly corporate executives that imposed the ban on all Israel-Palestine-related expression and on all student activity in two vital areas of campus life.

Engler's case is illustrative. In spite of the widespread ridicule that the administration took when he was handcuffed and taken away in a convoy of 20 police vehicles on Oct. 16, all because he passed out leaflets from a table on the school's mezzanine, Engler now faces a one-year suspension for this "offence.'' On the same note, he is also being charged with "stickering,'' for which the university wants to suspend him for one full semester, a considerable departure from the usual $20 fine.

To back up the latter charge, the university has even filed a complaint with the police. Yet tellingly, they have not done the same for a far more serious one that they are bringing against him, committing "assault" on Sept. 9. Given the severity of this allegation, what does it say about Engler's alleged guilt when the only criminal complaint that the university has made against him concerns putting up stickers?

The foolishness of these charges underscores the incompetence of the administration that has laid them. Lowy permitted Netanyahu's lecture to proceed in the downtown Hall Building, in spite of warnings from his own cabinet, security staff and the Montreal police. Many lobbied for the speech to be moved to the Loyola Campus, home of a larger venue and a much more conducive atmosphere for the required security. No matter how much one values free speech on campus, there is no justification for upholding it at the expense of knowingly endangering the safety of the university community.

Because of this negligence, anyone attending or leaving classes in the Hall building on Sept. 9 could do so only through a few doorways, as all other entrances and exits were closed off. And when riot police later shot tear gas inside, hundreds of students were trapped behind barred-off emergency exits and locked doors.

And as protest organizers have pointed out, Lowy displayed a contempt for Concordia's Arab students by allowing the school to be effectively shut down for an extremist like Benjamin Netanyahu. By contrast, exactly a year earlier, Lowy denied permission to a planned Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights rally, citing "security concerns" that couldn't even approach those raised by Netanyahu's visit. Given this pattern of behaviour, we are especially concerned of the implications it holds on the Arab students that the administration plans to charge.

Although it might be hard to believe, we discuss this whole affair with some reluctance - far too often, Concordia's internal politics have overshadowed an enriching and dynamic school that is wonderful to attend. But as elected student representatives in a public university, we feel compelled to address the current allegations for both the public and the 23,000 students to whom we are accountable. We cannot tolerate the continued attempts to shift all the blame onto students, as the administration betrays the integrity of our university simply because it refuses to uphold its own.

Sabine Friesinger, president, Aaron Maté, VP (campaigns) Sameer Zuberi, VP (finance) Kealia Curtis, VP (internal), Ralph Lee, VP (academic and advocacy) Yves Engler, VP (communications).