From the category archives:

Concordia

Ten years ago today, this was the scene at Concordia University:

smashwindows

The riot was a culmination of more than five years of tensions at Concordia between the radical left-wing CSU groups, which were dominated by members of the pro-Palestinian group SPHR, and pro-Israel groups like Hillel.

Concordia Hillel had invited Benjamin Netanyahu, who at the time was the former Israeli PM, to speak on campus. The radical anti-Israel groups saw this as a reason to mount a mass protest, which quickly turned into a full-fledged riot. Protesters smashed windows, hurled antisemitic slogans at ticket-holders, assaulted and beat up several attendees, and were eventually contained by police. Five people were arrested and faced charges in connection with the riot. The rioting also inspired two documentary films, a rash of ill-advised free speech restrictions on campus, and worldwide infamy for my school.

I’d graduated from Concordia the previous spring, after spending three years on campus dealing with the events that led to that flashpoint, and they were fresh in my mind. As it happened, September 9th 2002 was my first day of my first post-university job, and news of what was happening back at my former campus filtered to me as I was sitting in my new office immersed in training materials.

In a way, the riot was the catalyst that inspired me to start this blog a couple of months later. I focused a lot on the goings-on and events at Concordia for the first couple of years, though the posts eventually tapered off as I gained more distance from my university years. But at the time, as a recent graduate with a lot of friends still directly involved in the day-to-day events on campus, I had a lot to say, and this blog gave me a platform to share news and views about the events that followed.

Now, a decade later, Benjamin Netanyahu is once again Israeli Prime Minister, the radical Left is busy bringing down Quebec governments and staging pots and pans protests, and Concordia University is in the hands of a new generation of student leaders who, since 2003, have been mostly moderates. However, some students have noted that the situation isn’t necessarily any less hostile to Jewish students, just quieter. Concordia has hosted an “Israel Apartheid Week“, an event by the ever-present SPHR, for the past 8 years running. Despite the presence of a couple of new pro-Israel student groups at Concordia, the tensions continue. It’s not difficult to see why Jewish students continue to choose McGill over Concordia by an overwhelming margin.

Furthermore, on university campuses across North America and Europe pro-Israel students are still dealing with having their right to free speech denied, barrages of anti-Israel propaganda from campus activist groups, “boycott Israel” events and other such nonsense. A recent study by the University of California, published in July of this year, found that:

“Jewish students are confronting significant and difficult climate issues as a result of activities on campus which focus specifically on Israel, its right to exist and its treatment of Palestinians. The anti-Zionism and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movements and other manifestations of anti-Israel sentiment and activity create significant issues through themes and language which portray Israel and, many times, Jews in ways which project hostility, engender a feeling of isolation, and undermine Jewish students’ sense of belonging and engagement with outside communities.”

Another report released earlier this year found that “More than 40% of students confirm anti-Semitism on their campus; some 41% of students have encountered anti-Israel remarks made in class by professors.” From North America to Europe, the situation for Jewish students remains pretty grim.

As Quebec students continue to lobby for free or cheaper education, it’s worth asking just what sort of education they will be receiving.

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Interesting food for thought by Henry Aubin in the Gazette, with a perspective of the high dropout rates among university undergraduates in Quebec:

According to the organization that represents university heads, CREPUQ, Concordia is the Montreal school with the highest dropout rate. UQÀM is hard on its heels. Université de Montréal is substantially better, though still worse than the Canadian average. McGill is the only Quebec university that graduates a greater share of its students than the national average.

[ . . . ]

That’s because the academic disciplines from which the boycott draws most of its participants, according to the boycotters’ website (tinyurl.com/7hk59pr), are the same disciplines that, according to CREPUQ (tinyurl.com/8yzzvoa), have the highest dropout rates. These typically include geography, fine arts, education, literature, sociology, anthropology and political science.

Aubin’s analysis — both of dropout rates and of areas of study — completely ignores/disregards CEGEP. Surely any analysis of post-secondary dropout rates or of the value of trade diplomas versus university education needs to take the CEGEP system into consideration. I don’t have statistics handy, but the CEGEPs typically have higher dropout rates than either universities or high schools. And they’re free. Because of that, students have the freedom to experiment, to switch programs, to veer off from one course only to circle back on another course later on. All without wasting any money, other than failure fees or some textbook costs. But those who do graduate are either completing pre-university programs or are getting those trade degrees that Aubin thinks we desperately need.

And here, I disagree with Aubin’s conclusion. A healthy society doesn’t just need more trained monkeys to fill jobs; we need thinkers and educated people with ideas. We need people to challenge the status quo. We need not only employees but entrepreneurs, not only functionaries but luminaries.

The thing is, not everyone is cut out to be a luminary. And in the fight for “accessible” education, we tend to forget that providing people with the keys to the castle doesn’t mean they’re all going to be kings and queens. Life is, after all, what you make of your opportunities.

There’s a spurious correlation at work in Aubin’s article. Studying geography, sociology, liberal arts or political science does not cause one to drop out. But these disciplines tend to attract the most politicized (in Quebec, that means far left-wing) students and professors.  They also tend to have less clear career paths for students after graduation, which may be contributing to those same students’ disillusionment with university education — and with their prospects for success in general. Hence the higher rate of participation in the protests, compared to, say, business or engineering majors.

When I was at Concordia, the Arts & Science and Fine Arts faculties regularly rabble-roused in campus politics, while the JMSB (business) and Engineering faculties routinely stayed out of such things. I remember the oddity of being a marketing student in a communication studies class, the frequent scapegoat for a room full of self-described “anti-capitalists” who liked to wax poetic about the evils of corporations. Some of them have since graduated, and are probably working for the aforementioned “evil” corporations. Others are still out rabble-rousing. Plus ça change.

That’s not to say that there isn’t an important point being made in Aubin’s article. McGill is the only university in Montreal with lower-than-average drop0ut rates. It’s also the only university to attract a majority anglophone student body, largely from other provinces. As a Léger poll published in the Gazette last month indicates, there’s a stark difference between how education is valued among anglophone, francophone and allophones in this province:

Among younger Quebecers, we see the same divergence. About 85 per cent of Quebec allophone students and 80 per cent of Quebec anglophone students see a university degree as a minimal requirement [for success], compared with just 40 per cent of francophone students surveyed by Léger.

It’s a classic chicken-or-egg situation. CEGEP has been free and university has been cheap for over four decades. Like a ten-dollar diamond, nobody attributes much value to a cheap university degree.

“Accessible education” should mean that anyone who deserves to go to university should be able to, regardless of financial circumstance. It doesn’t mean that university should be open to everyone, whether or not they care about getting a degree. Because then, it becomes a farce of itself.

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5 truths about the tuition protest that nobody has the courage to say (out loud)

05.16.2012

The student tuition protests have dragged on for 14 weeks now and show no sign of ending anytime soon. With the city under siege and anger rising, the media has been flooded with analysis and op-ed pieces of all stripes. But there are some things that nobody’s saying, probably because they’re afraid to rock the [...]

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Concordia’s up to its old tricks again

03.28.2007

It’s been nearly five years since I graduated, and since then, it appears that CSU politics at Concordia haven’t improved by much: For the second year running, copies of Concordia University’s student newspaper, The Link, vanished overnight at the height of the campaign for a new student government. And while editor-in-chief Misha Warbanski doesn’t know [...]

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Universities open doors

08.07.2006

Two Montreal universities, Concordia and Université de Montréal, have announced that they will take in students who were supposed to be studying in Lebanon this fall: With the largest population of Lebanese-Canadians on their doorstep, Concordia University in Montreal and the University of Montreal have reopened closed application processes to students stranded by the war [...]

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New Concordia prez sure to ruffle some feathers

10.20.2005

Lowy out. Lajeunesse in. And for the student unions, it looks like it’s no more mister nice guy: A grandfatherly Al Pacino lookalike with a non-confrontational style mirroring his training as a psychiatrist, Lowy was admired for his warmth, grace and intelligence. Yet critics sometimes pined for a leader with a harder edge willing to [...]

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Another reason why I vote for Marlene Jennings

04.13.2005

Because this guy doesn’t.

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“Lifestyle” or just plain nuts?

12.03.2004

Steve Brandon has a merciless deconstruction of an article in this week’s Link that glorifies homelessness: Ah, this is why we’re not seeing the word “homeless”, because Olivier used the magic “l” word, “lifestyle”, which, if you’re a liberal, is a magic talisman against all criticism of the way one lives, unless combined with one [...]

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Free speech is dead on university campuses

11.18.2004

After Concordia allowed the Netanyahu riot to set a precedent by initially not allowing Ehud Barak to speak, it seems free speech is now only a privilege of the side of rioters. A planned speech by US Ambassador Paul Cellucci at UQÀM was cancelled for “security concerns”: Following on Concordia University’s decision last month to [...]

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Concordia: We didn’t really change our minds

11.07.2004

After reversing its decision to allow Ehud Barak to speak on campus, Concordia is now trying to claim that they didn’t really change their minds: Nov. 5, 2004 — Media coverage of a statement issued by Federation CJA yesterday may have caused misunderstanding about Concordia’s position regarding inviting Ehud Barak to speak at Concordia. Concordia’s [...]

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