York U Expels Dan Freeman-Maloy

By Irina Ceric

Universities are a core site of dissent and protest; most visibly by students, although faculty revolts are often equally significant. For example, student and activist organizing against the awarding of an honourary degree to George Bush Sr. by the University of Toronto was given a major boost by the decision of invited faculty members to walk out en masse during the ceremony and join the demonstration outside. At the same time, universities are also supposed to be sites of purely academic dissent – the much vaunted ideal of academic freedom is supposed to allow for the development of ideas, theory and methods unencumbered by pressures or considerations beyond the academy.

But just as corporate involvement in universities and colleges has increased in an attempt to both make up for shortfalls in state funding and better structure post-secondary institutions as employee factories and research centers for industry, the military and the service sector, recent responses to campus-based dissent have also revealed the limits of academic freedom. The line is clearly drawn at the point where the actions of student or faculty threaten a university’s hard-won reputation as a dependable business ally or weaken the support of a university’s funders. Just as guarantees of formal, legal equality cannot be reconciled with the economic and social inequality inherent in liberal democracies, neither can the ideals of academic freedom or free speech trump the necessity to maintain the financial viability and reputation of the modern university.

Toronto’s York University has become a hotbed of activism and organizing around the liberation of Palestine and the university’s administration has repeatedly stepped in to quell the action when it has strayed beyond the borders of symbolism and the campus, both literally and figuratively. In March 2004, two student groups prominent in the ‘debate’ over Palestine: Hillel, a pro-Occupation organization, and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), were banned for a week, after the corporate media carried images and stories of a heated and raucous protest at York’s Vari Hall. Clearly afraid of becoming known as the next Concordia University, York’s administration took careful note of key organizers and groups. York was also taking heat in other political battles. As workers at Toronto’s posh Metropolitan Hotel took on both their employer and union in an effort to redress unfair working conditions and the unjust dismissal of vocal workers, their community allies noted that the president of the hotel, Henry Wu, also sits on the Board of Directors of the York Foundation, the university’s key fundraising body. Organizers began pressuring York to remove Wu from the Board and linked the university with the unfair practices at the hotel.

Third-year student Daniel Freeman-Maloy was deeply involved in both struggles. He was a vocal presence during both the October, 2003 counter-demonstration during ‘Israel Defence Forces Appreciation Day’ at York, and the March, 2004 demonstrations to mark the one-year anniversary of the murder of solidarity activist Rachel Corrie. Dan was also an ally to the Metropolitan Hotel Workers’ Committee and helped organize a forum about their struggle at York, concluding with the delivery of an open letter to university president Lorna Marsden demanding Wu’s removal from the York Foundation. On April 30, 2004, Marsden wrote a letter to Dan explaining that he will "have no purpose on campus" for three years from May 1, 2004, effectively expelling him with no charges, no hearing and no opportunity to appeal. The expulsion is apparently based on Marsden’s "authority over the conduct of students" and cites Dan’s use of an "unauthorized sound amplification device" (a megaphone) at the two pro-Palestinian demos cited above.

The consequences of Marsden’s decision were no doubt the opposite of her intentions: rather than quelling dissent and rehabilitating York’s tarnished image, Dan’s expulsion has garnered considerable media attention and cast a spotlight on the political activism of York’s students and faculty. It has also revealed the precariousness of campus-based rights to organize and the limits of due process guarantees where serious challenges to corporate power and Canadian support for Israel are mounted. Dan’s expulsion is certainly unjust, and the result of an unfair and capricious abuse of power by Marsden, but it is by no means an exception to the rule. Rather, the current environment at York is a perfect illustration of how access to power and privilege, both within and beyond the university, sets the limits of academic freedom.