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October 24, 2002 Ban on Mideast events lifted



by Barbara Black

The moratorium on public events related to the Middle East has been lifted by Concordia University’s Board of Governors.

The board unanimously voted at its monthly meeting on Nov. 20 to authorize the rector to lift the ban, and this was done at 5 p.m. on Nov. 25.

In a statement, the Board expressed satisfaction that the moratorium had achieved its goal of imposing a cooling-off period. The ban was imposed Sept. 10 after violence prevented a speech by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The moratorium was always intended as a temporary measure,” said Rector Frederick Lowy after the meeting. “It gave all parties a chance to step back from an emotional issue and rethink the way we discuss such issues at Concordia.”

Over the last two months, senior university administrators have met with representatives of the Concordia Student Union, Hillel and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) to define the parameters of what would be considered acceptable behaviour and what would not be tolerated on campus.

The objective was to provide a secure environment where all members of the university community could express their views vigorously, but in a respectful manner. The principles provide a framework to guide public expression on campus. These principles include a series of commitments: to mutual respect and non-violent behaviour, “structured dialogue,” and regard for the core academic functions of the university.

In a message sent throughout the university, Dr. Lowy reminded members that “this year, the religious holidays of Ramadan, Hanukkah and Christmas are celebrated within weeks of each other. It is a time for reflection for all of us.”

The Rector's full message:

As of 5 p.m. Nov. 25, the cooling-off period and its restrictions came to an end. We all expect and hope that the University can now return to normal functioning.

As you well know, Concordia has a well-earned reputation for being one of the most open universities in Canada, and we have never shied away from debate on any controversial issue. I am aware that some members of our community may have felt uncomfortable about the cooling-off period and the restrictions on public events related to the Middle East. I understand these feelings and I hope that the community also understands that the violent actions of a few forced us to walk a fine line between the ideal, an absolute dedication to freedom of speech, and the necessity to intervene to preserve a civil campus where freedom of speech is possible in an intimidation-free environment.

We have now taken action against those who could be identified as having contributed to the violence on Sept. 9, and we are confident that the Code of Rights and Responsibilities will provide a fair hearing. These people, some from the leadership of student groups, must assume responsibility for their role in this disgraceful event. We too are looking at the administration's handling of these events with a critical eye. In the weeks to come, we will share our reflections on these events with the community.

We have traversed a painful period in our history. However, I hope that we may be a stronger community for it with our commitment to peaceful dialogue reinforced, and a strengthened will to combat intolerance and hate.

Monitor and apply principles

We will now monitor events closely and enforce strictly the principles upon which there is agreement. While these have been developed jointly by the administration, the CSU, Hillel and SPHR specifically with respect to relations between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students, they apply, in fact, to all student groups irrespective of the topic or context. The principles in question are:

Commitment to respect for all persons.

Commitment to non-violent behaviour.

Commitment to not permit:

Speech or materials that promote racism against any individual
or group.

Events or displays or literature that promote racism, promote
hate or stereotype individuals or groups based on race, colour, ethnic
or national origin, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status,
age, religion, political convictions, language, social condition,
handicap or the use of a means to palliate a handicap.

Commitment to reasoned respectful dialogue.

Commitment to protect the core academic functions of the University.

The intent of enforcing these principles is to prevent a recurrence of the unwelcome tensions that dominated the Sir George Williams campus during the past two years.

Exploit our diversity

However, we ought to be able to do more than merely enforce principles of conduct and keep tensions from rising excessively. We must now look for positive ways to take advantage of Concordia's marvellous ethnic, religions, cultural and political diversity. We regularly pay lip service to this diversity, stressing the educational and social advantages of studying and working in such a rich human environment, yet we have not gone far enough to exploit these advantages for the benefit of all of us.

I wish now to turn to our entire community for help and ask each of you to give thought to this point. We are looking for ideas. What can we do to promote positive interaction among the different groups represented in our University? How can we benefit more from our diversity? What will facilitate not only tolerance but also civility and understanding between people who disagree with respect to values and political positions?

This year the religious holidays of Ramadan, Hanukkah and Christmas are celebrated within weeks of each other. It is a time for reflection for all of us.

I invite you to send me your thoughts, ideas, suggestions by fax (848-4546) or e-mail (lowyfh@vax2.concordia.ca). Thank you in advance.

Frederick Lowy,Rector and Vice-Chancellor