End the Encampments Now

I have just signed a letter by an international group, Academics Against University Occupations, that argues that encampments are inconsistent with reasoned dialogue that is essential to academic discourse and disruptive of academic life and should be disbanded voluntarily or cleared. The letter was posted yesterday and has been signed by some 200 people. Here is the text.

Academics Against Encampment Protests

We, the signatories of this letter, believe that Universities exist to educate students and host academic research. These activities require a calm and respectful environment that promotes civil discourse. In this spirit, we oppose the movement to create encampments on University grounds. Such actions sow division and create exclusionary spaces, undermining the purpose and functioning of a University.

Observing encampment style protests across the world, we see spaces where discourse is shut down, where only a certain set of views can be safely expressed, and where, in the void of civil discussion, chaos has often ensued. In many ways, the encampments reveal exactly why the University system is so precious: that people from all over the world, all walks of life, and varied ideas can meet with a shared basic level of respect. The same cannot be said of the environment created by encampments.

We fully respect the right to free speech. That is why we welcome all those currently occupying University campuses to engage in discourse about their views with open minds – in the University tradition. In contrast, we do not support intentionally causing immense disruption to the mission of the University by occupying their private property.

We call for the protestors to disband and to put their claims up for debate in a manner appropriate for academia. Otherwise, we call for Universities to intervene and clear the encampments and restore order, safety, and a coherent academic environment for all staff and students.

Letter to President Gertler

I have written the following letter to President Gertler regarding the encampment situation at the University of Toronto:

Dear President Gertler,

I am writing in response to Christine Szustaczek’s statement yesterday and the sequence of events that have led to it.

I was impressed by your letter of April 8 affirming the importance of academic collaboration and the free circulation of ideas and people and on that basis rejecting Occupy for Palestine’s (OfP) demand to end partnerships with Israeli institutions and individuals. And I support your statement of the university’s position that its investment policies should not be dictated by OfP or, if OfP were successful, other groups that would emulate it. This would reduce the value of the endowment and discourage future donations. I was heartened by Professor Welsh’s letter to students that establishing an encampment would be considered trespassing.

I am therefore profoundly dismayed that the university, days after Prof. Welsh’s letter, permitted an encampment to be established and has made no effort to dislodge it. The participants in the encampment, many of whom are not affiliated with the university, have engaged in acts of harassment and hate speech and have disrupted the normal functioning of the university, for example forcing some classes to shift from in-person to online. It appears very likely that if the encampment remains in place in-person convocations will be cancelled. The encampment is weakening the university in numerous ways, such as harming its reputation, causing donors to turn away, and alienating the provincial government, which has already called for the encampments to end.

After you rightly rejected OfP’s demands, the participants in the encampment are now breaking the law, punishing the university and the university community, and threatening violence in a second attempt to realize those demands. Despite this, your administration is continuing to negotiate with them.

I urge you to break off negotiations with the participants in the encampment and not make any concessions that undercut the principled position you took in your letter of April 8. Further, I urge you to give them a deadline to leave and ask the police to enforce it. I believe that constitutes what Ms. Szustaczek refers to as a peaceful resolution of the conflict because it would be the participants in the encampment who decide whether they want to face arrest.

Sincerely yours,

Sandford Borins,

Professor Emeritus of Management

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