From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)
Committee for Free Speech at York University | 30 May 2004
York University President Lorna Marsden is under fire from all directions for her decision to banish student activist and journalist Daniel Freeman-Maloy from campus for three years. Freeman-Maloy's expulsion was meant to send a message: challenge my administration’s authority, and you will suffer the consequences. Instead, it is demonstrating that crude repression of student activism will always backlash.
The public justification for the summary expulsion of this third-year Political Science student was that Freeman-Maloy used an unauthorized megaphone at two Palestine solidarity demonstrations in York’s Vari Hall Rotunda. In response to the expulsion, some 50 concerned community members took over Vari Hall on Thursday, May 17 for a “Megaphone Choir.” The action was attended by a delegation of rank-and-file union activists from a hotel owned by a York University Foundation member; right before the megaphone choir, the delegation delivered a letter to Marsden's office expressing their solidarity with student struggles to organize for social justice. A coordinated ode to freedom was then staged, drawing lyrics from such great political figures as the Palestinian refugee poet Mahmoud Darwish: “I am the witness of the massacre, I am the victim of the map, I am the son of clear speech, I saw stones take flight, I saw dewdrops become weapons, When they slammed shut the door of my heart, when they threw up barricades, When they imposed a curfew inside me, my heart grew into an alley, My ribs became hovels, But carnations were budding, carnations were in bud.”
This demonstration was an important stand, taking place in the midst of a major Israeli assault on the community of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. From May 13-24, Israeli forces killed 56 Palestinians in Rafah, 45 of whom were civilians, including 10 children, and injured at least 200 others. Further, 220 Rafah houses were completely destroyed and 140 others partially destroyed, leaving 4847 people (821 families) homeless. (Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 27 May 2004)
Earlier this year, President Marsden introduced acting Israeli Minister Natan Sharansky, from the country’s far right wing, as “a symbol of the struggle for human rights.” Given her affinity for the state, perhaps she wanted to move slowly towards an Israeli mode of treating popular engagement, drawing her inspiration from the recent use of tanks and helicopters to attack Palestinian demonstrators in Rafah. But despite her obvious wishes, York University is not Dr. Marsden's personal political fiefdom, and the reaction to her power-trip has been strong.
Quickly following the May 17 takeover of Vari Hall, more than 20 faculty members from Freeman-Maloy’s own Political Science department co-authored a letter calling on President Marsden “to follow the path of justice and prudence by rescinding the expulsion of Dan Freeman Maloy.” The Executive of the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) itself chimed in, urging the President “to reconsider Mr. Freeman-Maloy's suspension” so that “the wider community [not be given] the impression that our university is not a forum for the free exchange of ideas.”
Then, on Thursday, May 27, she was struck with an even harder political blow. The highest academic decision-making body at York, the Senate, passed a motion respectfully requesting, among other things, that President Marsden “reconsider and rescind her decision on the suspension of Daniel Freeman-Maloy.”
President Marsden is presently faced with two options: to cut her losses, and terminate her project of executive harassment of Mr. Freeman-Maloy; or to stand in increasingly isolated opposition to student freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, and political organization on the one hand, and to York University’s own procedures and decision-making bodies on the other.
In either case, a message is indeed being sent. Progressive activism at York University will not so easily be stifled.
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