Over the past week I've come to a startling realization: the president of York University, Lorna Marsden, doesn't like me very much. It's a harsh reality I'm being forced to come to grips with since the York prez pegged me as "the lead protagonist in two highly confrontational and disruptive protests" at York, expelled me effective immediately for three years and threatened to charge me with trespassing if I tried to come on campus.
My transgression? Allegedly taking part in unauthorized campus protests and using "an unauthorized sound amplification device" - a bullhorn - that disrupted classes.
Now, Marsden is no hero of mine, but I've always admired her businesslike approach to administration. Her tireless efforts to convert our campus into a factory for the knowledge economy have been particularly noteworthy.
Alas, the respect doesn't appear to be mutual.
President Marsden's letter expelling me claims definitive "authority over the conduct of students."
But I recall looking through the shelves of the first office I ever entered at York and seeing books by or about Rosa Luxemburg. Could the head of such a progressive school really be so authoritarian? It doesn't make sense.
Was this for real? Can I really be expelled from my school by executive fiat, with no notice, no hearing and no avenue for appeal?
Marsden told reporters at a press conference that I had been "rusticated" - a sort of rural time out. As in the days of old, I was being sent to the country to think about what I'd done.
Should I be thankful she didn't find any provisions that would justify a public flogging? Maybe I should explore my confusion about the unique spirit of York.
York's mission statement describes our school as "a community of faculty, staff and students dedicated to social justice and accessible education."
If it's all about social justice and accessible education, why am I in the process of deciding whether I should take the time to fight the administration's political repression or work to pay off the thousands of dollars in debts I've racked up paying tuition? Why is Marsden so intent on converting a progressive school into her own political fiefdom? Why, to stick with the immediate issue at hand, am I being expelled?
On this last point, which for the moment is most personally pressing, the truth is that I don't exactly know. Let's run through the specifics of the two demonstrations I'm alleged to have "designed [so as] to create threats to students' personal safety."
For the first of these, the administration provided space for Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Appreciation Day, an event at which people sporting military paraphernalia congregated in one of York's principal public spaces to celebrate Israeli militarism. The mayor of a West Bank settlement led the event, which was attended by many people who have served in the forces.
Did I help to organize a demonstration to politically confront this event? Certainly. I hate militarism and feel especially compelled to oppose this Jewish nationalist variety, given its supposed connection to me. I am Jewish.
That I would be singled out and punished for the second protest in question is even more puzzling. I don't mean to imply that the day ran smoothly. In fact, what happened was without precedent in my experience, but that I orchestrated it all is news to me.
The occasion of that demonstration was the first anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie, the U.S. peace activist who was crushed to death by a bulldozer as she tried to block it from demolishing a Palestinian family's home in the Gaza Strip. Approximately 30 of us set up a mock checkpoint, some dressed as soldiers, some as civilians. Bore that I am, I had no dramatic role and was slated to leaflet passersby with information about Caterpillar, the company that manufactures the bulldozers that demolish Palestinian homes.
Because a crowd of some 150 people had congregated nearby for the purpose of a counter-demonstration, we postponed our action for about 45 minutes to avoid a confrontation. But no dice. Once we set up, we were surrounded, vastly outnumbered and for nearly an hour faced verbal intimidation.
My role shifted from pamphleteering to standing in a line designed to separate the counter-demonstration from our own. Then pre-planned roles gave way to generalized tumult. In the process, some of our activists were kicked and spat upon.
Certainly, I spoke and chanted through a megaphone at various points, as did many others.
But it took the other organizers and me fully 10 minutes to walk around coordinating with each other to leave, as planned, for the local Caterpillar office, since no speaker could raise his or her voice above the crowd's noise for a final call-out.
York's media relations coordinator, Nancy White, was soon quoted in media reports saying, "People who are participating in this have strongly held views on an issue, and we do want to encourage them to participate and take part in democratic activities."
The administration made no reference to my conduct until I received notice I was being expelled.
All of that being said, I don't think the deterioration of my relationship with Marsden's administration can be attributed solely to these events.
It's safe to say that we've been at political odds all year. After Marsden introduced Natan Sharansky, Israeli minister for diaspora affairs, as a champion of human rights at one York event, I publicly denounced it as racist.
Before my head gets too big, however, it's important to point out that I was attracted to York from the University of Toronto by the dynamism of York's social justice community and the foundations it has laid, which are the real basis for progressive politics at York, tumultuous or otherwise.
Marsden quite openly wants to convert York into just another elite university free from the stigma of uppity students and challenges to her administration's authority. It's in this light that my expulsion makes perfect sense. And this is why those with a different vision for our campus have, I think, a significant stake in blocking it.
THIS IS NOT A FREEDOM-OF-SPEECH ISSUE
"His suspension is not unprecedented, but obviously it is somewhat unusual. However, the sense is that we have a responsibility to our students, our faculty and staff to operate the university. We weren't especially trying to make a point here. We were looking at the conduct of one individual, an individual who repeatedly operated outside the university rules and regulations.
"All groups on campus know the rules of the university (that no protests are allowed in Vari Hall) and they sign on to those rules when they establish themselves as student clubs. However, during two separate protests he refused to cease and relocate confrontational encounters. On that basis, we can only conclude that his aim is the disruption of classes.
"He was engaging in a protest he knew was prohibited. He was warned beforehand. This is not a freedom of speech issue. There's lots of space and room for demonstrations and events, but he never informed the university about his plans. This is someone who created confrontational situations in academic spaces.
"Was three years too much? We made a judgment call. Our message is, we will continue to take actions of this kind to ensure the academic functioning of the university and security of our students."
Nancy White, director of media relations, York University