April 25, 2013
Ms. Bilan Arte, President
University of Manitoba
Students’ Union (UMSU) and Members of the Council
University of Manitoba
Dear President Arte and Members of the UMSU Council:
Re: Deregistering Students Against Israeli Apartheid:
I am writing as the president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS), a national organization of university faculty members and others dedicated to the defense of academic freedom and reasoned and respectful debate.(For further information, please see our website at www.safs.ca.)
According to an article and an editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press (April 15 and 16, 2013) and an op-ed in the National Post (April 13, 2013), the UMSU council passed a motion (19 votes to 16) de-registering Students Against Israeli Apartheid as an organization supported by UMSU. As we understand it, this means that this group of students is denied funding and space in the University Centre, the students’ building on campus, thus restricting their ability to express their views on campus.We also realize that there are legitimate criteria necessary for groups to be supported and there are legitimate reasons for de-registering groups.
Nevertheless, the article and the editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press suggest that this group has been de-registered because: “The language the group uses is quite concerning. It gives people the ammunition to hate Jewish students…” “During the [Israeli Apartheid] Week, a lot of Jewish students feel uncomfortable, a lot of Zionist students feel uncomfortable. As Jewish students, we feel uncomfortable on this campus during Israeli Apartheid Week.” These statements are attributed to Joshua Morry, a member of the UMSU council, a person who voted on this motion, and they are the only reasons given for UMSU’s decision.
As a society that supports academic freedom for both faculty and students, we find Council’s decision to be incompatible with the values of the Academy. The Academy is dedicated to open debate as a way of advancing knowledge, even if it makes students and faculty members uncomfortable. As Dr. David Barnard, the President of the University of Manitoba, has said “Universities long have been places that promote free inquiry and debate, a value that is codified in the commitment they make to the concept of academic freedom” (Winnipeg Free Press, April 15, 2013).
Even if the majority of council members believe that the opinions of this group of students may make other students feel uncomfortable, our view is that this should not be a compelling reason for denying them the resources necessary to voice their opinions. Consequently, SAFS asks the UMSU council to rescind its motion de-registering Students Against Israeli Apartheid as a students’ organization.
Clive Seligman, President