Rector Lowy knows what he's doing

Montréal, 17 November

With the Concordia moratorium briefly back in the news (flanked and rightly dwarfed by lists of terrorist targets and news of an attempted hijacking aboard an Israeli passenger jet), I believe it's time to point out something that may not be apparent to everyone interested in the Concordia take on Middle-East issues.

Rector Lowy probably knows exactly what he's doing. His field of work is psychology, and he has a staff of PR people to help him fine-tune his actions and statements for maximum effect. I've come to the conclusion that he genuinely wants to be the focus of the anger of the agitated “left” at Concordia and anyone they can rally to their cause. He's even willing to skirt dangerously close to stepping on some pretty important principles... but not as close as his opponents would like to show him to.

Case in point: exceptional powers. These were the scariest (and strangely the least-attacked by activist types) of the three measures announced after the September 9th clashes. No more open, judicial-type process refined by slow, compromise-based committee tweaking... just an edict and a reason from the administration in order to toss a student out. Scary... but mostly if it's used. When the videotapes had been reviewed and witnesses talked to, the administration picked out the people it had evidence to suggest were damaging things and being violent. It then sent them to two processes: the judicial system, which is a pretty agreed-upon place for dealing with vandalism and violence, and the old (non-exceptional) university code of conduct process, with its appeals, its conciliation options and its student representation. Aside from the sketchy (but probably still acceptable) double-duty of some of the panel members (who also serve on the academic complaints panel, a supposedly separate body), this means that all that the accelerated-process measure has actually done is ensure the rage and indignation of some activists is directed at the administration.

The moratorium itself has also been largely symbolic. Aside from Yves Engler's stint in a police cruiser, enforcement of the ban has been pretty light. Speakers have sometimes had trouble getting comfortable places to speak (Svend and company had to speak on the sidewalk outside the Hall building), but tabling by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (if that's not demonstrably linked to the Middle-East issue, what is?) has taken place in the heated and high-traffic Mezzanine quite regularly, and everyone who has the yearning seems to be able to post banners, have sit-ins and (unless their last name rhymes with Spengler) distribute literature as they see fit.

How does this inspire confidence, you might ask? Many of the announced measures still do smell of charter-challenge in the works. Because I like the rule of law, I hope they do eventually get withdrawn by the university or destroyed in court. In the meantime, people who might otherwise be devoting their time to being angry at anyone vaguely associated with Israel (say, Jewish students at Concordia) now have someone else in need of gobs and gobs of anger. In fairness to people who direct their anger over Middle-East failures squarely at the appropriate politicians, or are just angry at the apparent loss of free speech at Concordia, obviously he gets a fair amount of anger he'd be happy not to receive from people he doesn't really need to distract in the bargain. The other thing he's got going on is that now, it suffices to leaflet or invite someone to speak at the university (I'd love to have Netanyahu and/or Arafat down to speak, so long as there's a nice, long question period for his public humiliation included and all unarmed students and members of the public are welcome to attend), rather than break things or harass students, to defy The Man. Put those together, and you've got a plan to keep things safe, if not civil, at the university.