Roseann O'Reilly Runte - President of Carleton University

Roseann O'Reilly Runte - President of Carleton University (Image: Carleton University)

Reposted below are the two emails that the administration have sent out in response to Israeli Apartheid Week at Carleton. The first one is from the President (Jan. 13/2009) and the second from the Provost (Feb. 12/2009). Israeli Apartheid week is between March 1st and 8th. The official website describes it as such:

First launched in Toronto in 2005, IAW has grown to become one of the most important global events in the Palestine solidarity calendar. Last year, more than 25 cities around the world participated in the week’s activities, which also commemorated 60 years since the expulsion of the Palestinian people from their homes and land in 1947-1948. IAW 2008 was launched with a live broadcast from the South African township of Soweto by Palestinian leader and former member of the Israeli Knesset, Azmi Bishara.

This year, IAW occurs in the wake of Israel’s barbaric assault against the people of Gaza. Lectures, films, and actions will make the point that these latest massacres further confirm the true nature of Israeli Apartheid. IAW 2009 will continue to build and strengthen the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement at a global level.

While activists on Canadian campuses take this week of action and education to inform students on the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestinian land by the Israeli government and settlers, others like B’nai Brith and the Carleton University administration see it as antisemitic and a threat to the academic sanctity of the campus. Below are the last two emails from Carleton’s president (pictured above) and provost.

Dear Colleagues and Students,

In 1920 H.G. Wells wrote that history and humanity were on a collision course and that education was the only means to avoid disaster. That perilous course and solution remain the same in 2009.

Respect for others is possible when understanding exists.  To understand others we need to open our minds and free them of prejudice in a space which encourages peaceful exchange and dialogue.  Universities must provide this environment and university leaders must vigilantly defend both freedom of expression and civil behavior.  Intellectual boycotts are self destructive and tantamount to the closing of minds.  Universities must include a respectful context for representing the most diverse points of view.

I believe that to be most effective, a university president must speak out to defend the principles on which education is based.  I also believe that if the president has a personal opinion, he or she should not use the position of president to give it expression and weight.  By so doing, it could be implied that this position was one adopted by the institution as a whole.

If  universities are to be a buffer zone which prevents the violent collision of opposing points of view, their leaders must resolutely avoid the temptations of ideology and politics.  They should speak out to defend universities as inclusive forums of ideas but should neither condemn nor support people whose ideas are conflicting.

There must be a place where all sides feel safe to speak and where reason and rationality prevail no matter how passionate the debate and the debaters.  This space can best be created when the leadership remains steadfast in demonstrating and maintaining respect for all.

My heart is filled with sadness today.  In war there are no victors, only victims.  If there is to be an end to conflict on earth, it will come through peaceful and respectful discussions.  I hope that universities the world over can foster such dialogue.

Sincerely yours,
Roseann O’Reilly Runte

Feridun Hamdullahpur - Provost of Carleton University (Image: CBC)

Feridun Hamdullahpur - Provost of Carleton University (Image: CBC)

This ambiguous email came in the wake of controversy over the university’s ordering of the Israeli Apartheid Week poster to be taken down. The message is an enlightenment appeal for rationalism and civilized interaction, and makes the assumption that the university itself is an inert, inclusive and amicable space to all. The fact is the university is an instrument of violence for many who find all kinds of discrimination at structural and instrumental levels. It is also a space that has large military ads that many students find offensive and the opposite of fostering peace. But most of all, it subtely paints the plans of protestors as those that are opposed to peace and rationalism. Here is the second letter, sent by the provost one month later:

Dear members of the Carleton community:

In recent days, several incidents have been brought to the University’s attention regarding behaviour that has been received by many as hurtful and discriminatory to some students on campus. These actions, which are a rare phenomenon at Carleton University, appear to be related to the serious and tragic conflict that recently took place in the Middle East.

As members of the Carleton community, you are all aware that universities across Canada take extraordinary measures to ensure their campuses remain the cornerstone of free speech and open civil dialogue. In this regard, Carleton University is both a champion and leader. You need to look no further than this current academic year to know that Carleton and its students are exceedingly capable of thoughtfully engaging in vigorous and sometimes contentious debates.

In protecting our community’s right to free speech, we must also be vigilant to ensure that our campus environment remains an entirely respectful one, where all students and other members of our community, regardless of their race, ethnic background or religion can achieve academic success and personal growth. They should be able to take part in their everyday activities without regard for who they are as a person, their beliefs, and their personal safety.

In stating this, I would like to make the following point very clear to all students as well as to our campus community in general. Carleton University, regardless of the circumstances, cannot and will not tolerate actions that infringe or contravene the Ontario Human Rights Code and Carleton’s own University Human Rights Policy and Procedures. Discrimination, harassment, and intolerance which take the form of inappropriately challenging or questioning a person’s race or beliefs are actions that are contrary to the mission of Carleton University and put in peril the essence of the Canadian university experience.

We understand that some events may be planned which may be related to some serious and emotional world issues. I would therefore ask everyone to take a few moments to become familiar with the Carleton University Human Rights Policy and Procedures and the Student Rights and Responsibilities Policy. Both documents play an important role at the University and provide us with guidance towards civil and collegial behaviour. However, they are also tools to be used to address inappropriate behaviours including discrimination and harassment. Among other sanctions that may be applied under these policies, students can be withdrawn from their studies indefinitely. Note that under the authority of these policies, all reported incidents of racial or religious intolerance will be investigated vigorously and addressed regardless of the persons or groups involved.

All members of the University community ought to be assured that the University will thoroughly investigate every complaint of inappropriate behavior, and will strictly monitor the use of University space to guard against discrimination, harassment and other activities in violation of relevant law and codes of conduct.

Above all else, universities are meant to be institutions that facilitate and encourage open academic discourse. Importantly, the imperative nature of these discussions go hand in hand with the responsibility to conduct ourselves in a manner that is respectful and that is consistent with the inherent values of Canada. Please join me and your fellow students in making every effort to ensure that Carleton’s campus remains a model of tolerance to which other institutions, both in Canada and abroad, will continue to aspire.

Yours sincerely,

Feridun Hamdullahpur
Interim Provost and Vice-President (academic)

Again, this letter does not conspicuously name Israeli Apartheid Week, but it is clear that the administration is alluding to activists preparing for the week of events. Conflating criticism of Israel and Jewish people is against rationalism. It is a dangerous trope used to cast a wide net over those in opposition to Israel’s continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land and the ongoing destruction of land and culture. The right to protest and free speech remain ideals of Canadian society and the second remains obliquely enshrined in the academy. That some students may feel hurt and uncomfortable because other students are voicing criticisms of Israel is part of going to a wonderfully liberal education institution in this country.

Or it should be. Should I, as a white Canadian student, have a right to claim discrimination if First Nations activists are on campus staging events and protests that reveal the imbedded racism in Canada’s history as a nation and its current configuration? I would think not. We don’t got to university to be bullied into submission either in the form of silencing, or in the form of a forced “rational” agreement of disagreement. We go to build knowledge, not just from the professors and textbooks in our classrooms, but in the hallways, cafeterias and parking lots too. The way to ensure marginalized discourses remain marginalized on campus is to allow administrations the cloak of Charter of Rights language to stamp out dissent because one “group” was able to amass its collective voice more convincingly than the other. Debates, even loud empassioned debates, should be part of campus culture at every school. Israeli Apartheid Week, from my experiences, moves in this direction and even if you disagree with their views, should be encouraged and supported in their efforts to engage with, inform and inspire students.