Support Academic Freedom and Queen’s University Rector Nick Day

UPDATE, March 16, 2011

Action Required – Stand up for Queen’s Rector who spoke truth to power

As you may already know,  Nick Day,  the rector of Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario has come under fire for writing an open letter to Michael Ignatieff in defence of Israeli Apartheid Week (see below for more details).

At issue is the fact that Day signed the letter to Ignatieff using his title.  He has apologized for this but the campaign to impeach him spearheaded by the Queen’s Conservative, Liberal and Israel clubs continues.

Please write a letter of support for Nick. Letters should be addresses to Principal Woolf, Queen’s Board of Trustees, University Senate, and University Council and sent to:

Daniel Woolf, principal@queensu.ca
Georgina Moore,  mooreg@queensu.ca
University Secretariat: univsec@queensu.ca
Please cc: academicfreedomqueens@gmail.com

A vote will be held at the university council meeting to be held on March 22 so please write within the next few days.

Talking points:

– Nick Day should not be impeached.  In his letter to Michael Ignatieff, he spoke the truth about Israel’s apartheid policies and  Michael Ignatieff’s unethical and self serving support for Israel.

– Some critics object to the fact that Day signed his letter as the  Rector.  However, in publicly addressing the protection of IAW as a matter of Academic Freedom, and Freedom of Expression, the Rector acted in accordance with the duties and responsibilities of the office which requires the Rector to “promote scholarly dialogue amongst students.”   To suggest that the Rector must obtain a mandate from the Queen’s student body to defend such a basic principle would render the position of Rector meaningless.

– In any case, Day has apologized for using his title in the signature of his letter.  It would be inappropriate to dismiss him from his position as that would amount to penalizing someone for criticizing a foreign country  – a right that surely all Canadians should be entitled to without fear of repercussion.

– Israel  Apartheid Week events that I have attended (have heard of) were not anti-Semitic.  The presenters had good credentials and real life experiences. Their talks were fact based and their analysis solid.

– On many campuses, Jewish students are key organizers of IAW.

– There certainly is evidence-based criticism of Israel and its current policies toward the Palestinians at IAW events but many of those criticisms – about the occupation, the house demolitions, the settlements, the wall, etc. are criticisms which are already part of Canadian foreign policy.

More information and background on the issue

On March 9, 2001, a letter was posted on rabble.ca by Queen’s University rector Nick Day in response to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s statement condemning Israeli Apartheid Week as “an attack on the mutual respect that holds our society together” and accusing the event of “targeting Jewish and Israeli students for abuse on our university campuses.”

Predictably, Day has been under attack for daring to defend Israeli Apartheid Week and to posit the idea that Canadian university campuses should be places where contentious issues can be discussed openly. The always-balanced, completely neutral National Post went on the offensive, with an op-ed calling IAW an “anti-Semiteand-communist-inspired [sic] festival of Israel-hatred” and blasting Day’s position and accusing him of “ignorance and bigotry.” An article on the subject also appears under no less than three different headlines on the Post‘s website (only one of which, in fairness, contains a typo). Upholding the sterling journalistic principles the National Post is known for, writer Sarah Boesveld only bothered to interview Mitchell Rattner, president of Israel on Campus at Queen’s University and student Madlyn Axelrod, who helped gather signatures on a petition calling for the impeachment of Day. Good job, Sarah and Post editors. Way to live up to the expectations of former owners Conrad Black and Israel Asper.

A petition spearheaded by the Queen’s Campus Conservatives, Queen’s Liberal Association and Queen’s Israel on Campus calling for Day to be impeached was passed by the AMS assembly, the Queen’s University student government, by a vote of 35-0 with three abstentions. Students will vote on March 22 and 23 to decide whether or not they vote to impeach Nick Day as Rector

In response, a group of Queen’s students and professors have released the statement below in defence of Day and of academic freedom. Support for the statement can be signed on to online, and you can join the Facebook event, and can also send your personal statements of support for the unequivocal protection of principles of Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech at Queen’s University to academicfreedomqueens@gmail.com. You can also email notes of support to Day at rector@queensu.ca.

To:  Members of the Queen’s University Community

We, the undersigned, wish to state our deep concern over the recent attacks on the principles of Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression that have recently occurred at Queen’s University.

The unequivocal protection of these principles is crucial to the health and vitality of Queen’s University’s stated commitment to “develop leaders and citizens for a global society.”

BACKGROUND

On March 9, 2011, the Queen’s University Rector Nick Day published a “Response Letter to Michael Ignatieff” on the Liberal Party leader’s “Statement on Israeli Apartheid Week.” The letter expressed the Rector’s position regarding Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), outlining the rationale for its legitimate inclusion on Canadian university campuses as a matter of freedom of speech. At no point in the letter did Rector Day state that he was expressing the official view of Queen’s University or of Queen’s students as a group.

Only a day after the publication of the Rector’s letter, Principal Daniel Woolfe issued a public statement expressing his views, declaring that it was “inappropriate” for the Rector to voice his opinions regarding Ignatieff’s comments. Principal Woolfe stated he was contacted by “students, alumni, and others, who believe the Rector should no longer have the privilege of holding this office.” In his public statement, the Principal neglected to reference the messages from current students, alumni, faculty members, and others who had contacted him in support of the Rector and his right to speak publicly on such issues in his capacity as Rector.

Partisan student organizations, including the Campus Conservatives, Queen’s Liberal Association, and Israel on Campus, circulated a petition seeking an AMS motion to poll the Queen’s undergraduate student body on whether to recommend the Rector’s dismissal by the University Council. This petition was presented to the AMS Assembly only one day after the publication of the Rector’s letter to Michael Ignatieff.

After receiving defamatory and violent personal attacks, including a death threat, through email, Facebook, and Twitter, the Rector decided not to attend the AMS Assembly. The Queen’s Journal reported that he felt “uncomfortable and unsafe.” This environment of intimidation — which Principal Woolfe not only failed to address but also exacerbated — has denied the Rector an opportunity to respond to the controversy prior to or during the AMS Assembly. Following a secret ballot, AMS Assembly voted to allow the question to proceed to a referendum set for March 22-23, 2011.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM & FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

We believe that the Queen’s University community must demonstrate its unequivocal support to upholding a campus environment of unfettered academic inquiry and discussion. Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) provides a forum for the Queen’s University community to engage with vital issues of concern to human rights and Canadian foreign policy.

The Rector’s response to Liberal Party leader, Michael Ignatieff, addressed common and often dangerous misconceptions with Israel Apartheid Week, an annual week-long event that has been held on Canadian campuses since 2005.

IAW has been held at Queen’s University since 2008 and is well attended by faculty, staff, students, and local community members. IAW makes an intellectual contribution to public understanding of Canadian and Israeli foreign policy, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the situation of the Occupied Territories and Palestinian peoples. Further, “Israeli Apartheid” is the subject of an internationally-recognized academic and political debate, one that is actively engaged with here at Queen’s.

There is no doubt that IAW is a controversial event, particularly with respect to the use of the term “apartheid.” As a leader in higher education and an institution dedicated to global citizenship, Queen’s University must not retreat from its responsibility to engage with controversial issues; rather, it is the University’s role to create and maintain space for civil discussion, dialogue, and dissent. While IAW events may challenge attendees to reflect critically on their presumptions and beliefs, a process that can be difficult for some, there have been no credible reports of anti-Semitism or targeting and harassment of Jewish or Israeli students during IAW at Queen’s.

DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE RECTOR

In publicly addressing the protection of IAW as a matter of Academic Freedom, and Freedom of Expression, the Rector acted in accordance with the duties and responsibilities of the office which requires the Rector to “promote scholarly dialogue amongst students.” The countless debates about this and other issues sparked by the Rector’s public statements are certainly a testament to the fulfillment of this important mandate.

To suggest that all actions undertaken by the Rector must necessarily represent a consensus of the Queen’s University student body is both impossible and renders meaningless the position of the Rector as an elected representative of students to the Board of Trustees and administration. Any public action or statements made by the Rector, especially those directly relating to matters of academic freedom and discourse, will no doubt may be seen as contentious by some members of the Queen’s University community. It would be a frightening compromise of democratic principles if the Rector were to be restricted from acting publicly on matters relevant to student life and academic inquiry, while being expected to espouse institutionally-sanctioned lines in both her or his politics and actions.

We, the undersigned, wish to state the following:

1. We unequivocally support the principles of Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression in all circumstances. These principles are critical to the maintenance and vitality of an open and democratic community and must not be constrained in any way by interference from outside powers.

2. Differences of opinion and the motives of partisan political organizations regarding controversial issues are not justifiable grounds for the removal of the Rector from office by the University Council.

3. The position of Rector is accountable to the entire Queen’s University student body and not any particular student government or constituency.

4. We urge the Queen’s University student body to affirm its commitment to principles of Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression by voting “no” on the referendum regarding the recommendation of the removal of the Rector from his position.

5. We condemn the use of hate speech and violent personal attacks in all cases and call on Principal Daniel Woolfe to make a clear public statement condemning the use of hate speech and physical intimidation, including those made against the Rector.

Please send your personal statements of support for the unequivocal protection of principles of Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech at Queen’s University to:
academicfreedomqueens@gmail.com

SIGNATURES

1. Karl Hardy, Ph.D. Student, Graduate Programme in Cultural Studies, Queen’s University
2. Margaret Little, Full Professor, Gender Studies/ Political Studies, Queen’s University
3. Dana Olwan, Assistant Professor, Department of Gender Studies, Queen’s University
4. Andrew Stevens, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Sociology, Queen’s University
5. Meaghan Frauts, Ph.D. Student, Programme in Cultural Studies, Queen’s University
6. Lauren McNicol, Queen’s Alumna (BPHE/BA ’08), MA Candidate, School of Kinesiology & Health Studies
7. Kyla Zanardi, M.A. Candidate, School of Kinesiology & Health Studies, Queen’s University
8. Jackie Day, JD Candidate, Faculty of Law, Queen’s University
9. Sylvia Bawa, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Sociology, Queen’s University
10. Heather Cyr, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English, Queen’s University
11. Usman Mushtaq, MSc, Department of Civil Engineering, Queen’s University
12. Daniel Moore, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English, Queen’s University
13. Karen Dubinsky, Professor, Global Development Studies/History, Queen’s University
14. Jessie Barr, Ph.D. Student, Programme in Cultural Studies, Queen’s University
15. Margaret Pappano, Associate Professor, Department of English, Queen’s University
16. Douglas Nesbitt, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, Queen’s University
17. Suhail Panjwani, B.ScH, B.Ed, Queen’s University Alumnus
18. Stephen Sheps, Ph.D Student, Department of Sociology, Queen’s University

2 Responses to Support Academic Freedom and Queen’s University Rector Nick Day

  1. Helen Sadowski says:

    Dear Daniel Woolf

    Last evening I attended the opening night event of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) at the University of Alberta. Prior to the presentation by Huwaida Arraf, an international human rights lawyer, the MC clearly stated that anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia and other rascist remarks wouldn’t be tolerated.

    Huwaida Arraf presented her experiences as a founding member of the International Solidarity Movement which is focused on helping to free Palestinians from their unlawful military occupation and current blockade in Gaza. In particular she spoke at length of the effects of the Israeli blockade which has been a humanitarian crisis affecting the lives of all, but especially children and pregnant women. This blockade is unlawful and has been condemned by many groups around the world.

    During this presentation I wondered if you had ever attended any of these events when you were the Dean of Arts at UofA. Of course if you had, you would have discovered as I have, that these speakers, Huwaida Arraf, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huwaida_Arraf), or documentaries on B’ilin (B’ilin (http://www.bilin-village.org/english/videos/Video-Documentary-film-Bilin-village-at-the-foot-of-the-wall-extracts) offer excellent opportunities to learn more about the situation that Palestinians face in their daily lives.

    What I have learned first hand at these events was never available through our media. CanWest who controlled so much of the media in our country was known for its pro Israel stance and of course the strength of the pro Israel lobby has influenced Harper’s foreign policy. As a citizen who cares about human rights and justice I cannot be blind to the suffering of Palestinians and being called racist or anti-Semitic for attending Israeli Apartheid Week is both vitriolic nonsense and opportunistic.

    I strongly support the comments made by Nick Day as a voice that supports reason, academic freedom and objectivity. Events such as IAW challenge all of us to question our assumptions, beliefs and values…that is a true learning event. I should add that I am not a student but a 62 year old who eagerly attends events at the University of Alberta whenever I can and thank my lucky stars to be living in a city that has a university.

    Finally, when leaders like Michael Ignatieff and you clearly take sides in this situation, you are only confirming that political lobbying by stronger forces prevails. Yes, Jewish students and the pro Israel lobby clearly won the day and you have made some students winners and other losers. In our diverse and multicultural society we need to have a balanced outlook, ensuring an inclusive society where all citizens feel equal and respected.

    Thank you for the opportunity to share my concerns with you.

  2. Roger Swan says:

    Right On! Thank you. So many battles and so often the barrier is academics who forget the mandate they are being paid by the taxpayer for is to be open minded in the face of propaganda backed up by naked violence.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: