In March, five student associations at Concordia University voted to strike as part of a broader movement protesting the Quebec Liberal government’s austerity measures. Over 25 students who participated in picket lines and disrupted classes at Concordia during the strikes are now facing disciplinary tribunals that could result in expulsion. Concordia chose not to pursue similar complaints filed against students following the 2012 student strikes, but has now reversed its position. This betrayal tramples on students’ democratic right to strike by threatening expulsion and is nothing short of shameful.
This kind of university crackdown is neither new nor unique to Concordia. At UQAM, nine students are currently facing expulsion for participating in protest actions in April, and one has already been expelled. Many UQAM professors have shown solidarity with student protesters, at one point physically standing between student protesters and police, and later calling for a repeal of all expulsions. In contrast, at Concordia, professors filed complaints against the students under article 29g of Concordia’s Code of Rights and Responsibilities, alleging “obstruction or disruption of University activities” – even though at least three students who received complaints were not involved in the protests.
The Arts and Science Student Federation of Associations (ASFA) at Concordia released a statement to the press on November 2 condemning these charges, stating that the decision to strike was made democratically through general assemblies. As such, the decision by the Concordia administration to penalize these students undermines the legitimacy of student associations and the democratic nature of general assemblies. As the ASFA statement points out, these actions are a strategic effort to discourage future strikes and the politicization of the student body – a particularly timely tactic as anti-austerity strikes pick up again this fall. Ironically, by attacking students protesting provincial austerity measures that include cuts to higher education, Concordia is silencing its own advocates.
These measures are part of a neoliberal drive to depoliticize the student body and reframe educational institutions as businesses, rather than sites of political action. This has also been seen at McGill with the firing of politically active floor fellows and the adoption of a repressive protest protocol. We call on the faculty and administration of Concordia to drop the charges against the students who acted on their democratic decision to strike. Universities must stop standing in the way of students demanding an end to austerity in the province.
—The McGill Daily editorial board