It's convocation time in T.O., a time for tradition and celebration - except at York University, where flying your college's flag is tantamount to an act of rebellion and will get you bounced from the festivities.
That's what happened to John Spink, president of York U's Winters College student council, on Tuesday, June 14, at the faculty of fine arts convocation.
Spink, a third-year theatre student, had taken the flag to the ceremony, as have past presidents, to show support for graduating Winters College students. An unidentified York official told him to leave, and another said that if he, the flag and other students who had been leafletting returned, the police would be called.
Attempts to resolve the matter with Marie Rickard, master of the college, and Phillip Silver, the dean of fine arts, and Rob Tiffin, vice-president of students, went nowhere, and Spink and the other students were asked to leave.
York officials apparently believed that Spink and the students who before the ceremony were distributing flyers protesting the university's moving the faculty of education into Winters would attempt to disrupt graduation.
The Winters community has concerns about the relocation both because it was decided on without community input and because it could displace existing student, staff and classroom space. But Spink says the flag and other materials brought into the graduation were not meant to be part of that protest, but to continue a tradition and expression of college pride for the graduates.
"It's long been a tradition at Winters College for the council president to lead the graduates into the fine arts ceremony with the flag. Most fine arts students are still affiliated with Winters College, and I thought having the flag at the ceremony would be a nice symbol of tradition for those students."
Rickard supports the idea. "I can sympathize with students," she says. "Graduating under the flag is a much-loved tradition."
Spink thinks the university had an ulterior motive for evicting him from the ceremony. "The university administration wants to dismantle the college system, and any expression of college spirit might be taken as a form of protest," he says.
George McNeillie, York's assistant director of media relations, declined to comment directly on the situation.
Instead, he offered the following by e-mail: "It is against university policy to bring flags, signs, banners or anything else that might distract from the ceremony into convocation, and the students in question were quite properly asked to remove their materials from the tent if they wished to remain. The students were reminded that there are many other forums in which to promote their views, but that it was inappropriate for them to attempt to disrupt ceremonies intended to honour thousands of York graduates, distinguished guests and their families. It is such a significant moment in their lives."
McNeillie goes on to say that "student conduct on campus is governed by long-standing presidential regulations that require students to abide by reasonable instructions given orally or in writing by any official of the university," even though the policy banning banners has not be uniformly enforced in the past.
According to Paul Delany, the outgoing master of Bethune College, the controversy over Winters reflects a larger problem: the top-down decision-making model at York U.
"The problem is a lack of consultation," Delany says.
In an ironic turn, the ceremony was concluded early due to a tornado warning. Apparently, York can't control every potential disruption on campus.