The first public meeting of the Open Forum on Free Expression and Peaceful Assembly, hosted by Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi on March 1, was marked by expressions of disapproval from many students with regard to the administration’s consultation process.
The ninety-minute livestreamed meeting, which took place in Moyse Hall, was attended by a handful of students, faculty, staff, and senior administrators.
Manfredi, chair of the Forum, structured discussion around questions posed in Dean of Law Daniel Jutras’ report on the events of November 10.
Dave D’Oyen, U2 Arts student, said he found “forums like this to be pointless.”
“I can’t understand how you know that tension exists in this University, and we’re not really doing anything to solve it. This is just another talk shop,” he continued.
One student in attendance named Courtney explained that, “The format of this consultation seems so flawed to me.”
“I feel like by speaking and just being here right now, I’m almost validating this type of consultation to students, and I don’t feel comfortable validating it,” she continued.
A contentious point of debate involved campus safety and the validity of occupations in particular as a method of protest.
Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson attended the event and spoke about the five-day occupation of his office last month.
“I don’t think that we should assume that people who work in the Deputy Provost’s office should assume that they can have their space invaded,” Mendelson said.
“The people who work in my office are members of this community, and they currently don’t feel that they have a safe space to work in,” he added.
Caroline Baril, who works in Principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s office as senior associate (Government and Institutional Relations), spoke to her experiences during both the #6party occupation last month, and the occupation of Munroe-Blum’s office on November 10.
Baril said that some of her colleagues, especially those working in Mendelson’s office, have “become justifiably a little fearful whenever they see a group coming towards them, because they don’t know what to expect now.”
She added that the occupations had caused her to fall behind on work, preventing her from “doing my job, which is contributing to the life of the University.”
“I feel, as an employee of the University, that I’m not respected by the people that I’m working for,” she said.
Political Science Professor Catherine Lu addressed Baril’s statement. “I find the excessive reliance on the language of fear and security describing the reaction to student demonstrations very off the mark and problematic, because it conflates the dangers of having an armed intruder with the problems of civic protest,” she said.
“It’s not what we’d like to happen in our offices, but this is a part of being a public institution,” continued Lu.
In response, Mendelson said he was concerned about the “the slippery slope that you’re going to go on, which is that the ends can justify the means.”
“It seems to me that there are some ends that we can all agree with, but that doesn’t mean that we would all agree with any means to achieve those ends. So we really have to, I think, be very careful,” he said.
Lu, however, said she saw the “slippery slope” pointing in the opposite direction.
“When we start using the language of privacy and rights to basically say those in positions of authority and power really don’t have to listen to people who are lower than us or inferior to us… I think that it’s a big mistake for a democracy, and it’s a big mistake for a university,” she said.
One of the first questions Manfredi posed was whether the University should designate specific areas to hold demonstrations.
Josh Redel, president of the Engineering Undergraduate Society and a member of the forum’s nine-person Advisory Group, said the concept of a designated protest space was interesting, but that “part of the point is that direct action inherently disrupts something.”
“So if you have a designated corridor that’s far away from classrooms, administration buildings, and therefore doesn’t disrupt anything, what’s the point then? They’re never going to use it,” he said.
The forum will hold three more public meetings this semester, as well as a conference in April. Manfredi is mandated to submit a final report to Munroe-Blum no later than October 8.
After the event, Manfredi spoke to The Daily regarding his final report. “This forum is not about a micro-analysis of specific policies, practices, and regulations. It’s about getting a general sense of the community on these issues that can then form an intelligent discussion on these things,” he said.