Friday, February 10, 2012

Counter-Insurgency University Tactics

I have been posting the occasional missive from McGill, so here is the latest on the on-going occuption of the admin building with some of my thoughts in red (due to my apparent role as part of the vanguard of the proletariat). 

Message from Michael Di Grappa, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) February 10, 2012 [the messages also come in French, but we all know how lame I am in Canada's other official language.]
I am writing (again) to update you on the status of the James Building occupation. A few minutes ago, we shut the washroom being used by the protestors on the sixth floor, as another measure to get them to leave of their own accord. We are maintaining access to drinking water and, as you may have read on Twitter or in the student media, the protestors found a way to get in some food, cigarettes and supplies last night. Although we have had reports of smoking in the offices, we have as yet had no fire alarms. Again, the protestors are free to leave at any time and have been told they can request medical assistance at any time. Another protestor left this morning, so there are now 10 left.

Um, ok, no bathroom but you are allowing access to water and they got some food overnight, right?  What do you expect the students to do?  Leave or use whatever they find handy (trashcans, floors, potted plants, etc.)?  Seems like a most strange choice.  Yes, it will make things unpleasant now for the partiers/occupiers but for the folks who work there for some time after this is over.

Most people who responded to my update last night are clearly frustrated that the administration has not as yet moved to end the occupation. We have heard that many of you want us to restore services offered out of the building and to allow the staff there to resume their work in their space. We also know many James Building staff are frustrated with the frequent disruptions over the last few months and some feel quite concerned, even scared, about what they see as the invasion of their private work space. We realize this protest is disruptive for many members of the community, and thank people for their patience. We are working very actively to end the situation, but are also taking steps to ensure that acts of civil disobedience on campus are conducted in a way that does not cause undue disruptions to university activities.

This is only partly on the occupiers, as I still don't understand why the rest of McGill needs to be closed.  Sure, you don't want the occupiers to gain reinforcements, so turn off the elevators and have security, which is already hanging out, staff the stairs to the sixth floor.  Yes, you risk more occupation, but if you go on as business as usual, the occupiers will lose relevancy and cachet.  I don't think McGill needs to negotiate with these folks since the student organizations they seek to represent have their own representatives.  So, this is a battle of endurance.  With spring break  a week away and midterms next week (and Valentine's Day!), McGill should just be patient.  But it is easy for me to advocate patience--I have tenure and I am leaving.  Still, making the students appear to be victims does not seem to be a smart strategy.   

Oh, and some commenters have compared the occupiers to burglars.  Burglars do not usually stick around and make demands unless they are holding hostages, in which case they become kidnapers.  This is a pretty ordinary form of dissent in McGill's history and that of universities in general.  I think treating the students with respect while not giving in on their demands is the high road and the right road.  As long as they don't trash the building (which, um, the new policy re: bathrooms may facilitate), the students are doing no real harm.  Again, I don't really support their positions, and McGill is handling this better than the last time around.  Of course, that is not hard.  Still, the school could be doing better on this.

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