By Tyler Levitan, Mondoweiss March 13, 2014
In a historic victory for the BDS movement in Canada, the University of Windsor undergraduate students voted in a campus-wide referendum to endorse the BDS movement, and to push for university divestment from companies that are complicit in Israel’s systematic violations of international law. The University of Windsor Palestinian Solidarity Group (PSG) carefully followed the protocols in place for this referendum, having had their question vetted and approved by the University of Windsor Student Alliance (UWSA) lawyer, and having met with the university’s president, Alan Wildeman, in advance of the referendum. Over 10% (which is quorum) of voters cast their vote, with 798 out of 1393 votes in favour of divestment.
Why, then, has there been so much pressure from the university’s administration to prevent a ratification of the results? President Wildeman wrote a letter to students following the BDS victory indicating that several complaints about the process of the referendum required an investigation from the administration into its validity. Wildeman has also attended a recent UWSA meeting with the goal of preventing the UWSA from performing its duties by ratifying the referendum results. The undergraduate referendum does not fall within the purview of the administration. The UWSA has autonomous mechanisms in its by-laws that deal with appeals. There have been other “controversial” UWSA referendums that have not seen any interference from the administration. So why are they interfering with this one?
A recent letter sent to President Wildeman from a Zionist donor, explicitly shows the kind of pressure that university administrations receive from the Israel lobby when the issue of Palestinian rights gains broad campus appeal. Donor Richard Spencer expresses his discriminatory views unashamedly: “I am reasonably certain that the majority, if not all, of this small percentage of the student body are of the Muslim faith, which promotes violence and hatred toward the Jews in the Middle East. … What is next? Christian students, too, will feel unsafe on campus because of this intolerant group?” He then follows that with an ultimatum to the university’s president: quash the BDS culture on your campus, or lose out on continued financial support.
While this kind of pressure on a university administration is commonplace, rarely do we gain access to such blatant displays. What may be the most disconcerting part is the university administration’s failure to publicly condemn Spencer’s statements, despite the fact the letter has been circulating for several days. It becomes much clearer to the average Joe why Wildeman’s administration is taking this referendum so seriously, when it appears clear that the referendum has followed all of the rules, and that it falls outside of the disciplinary purview of the administration to begin with.
Please sign Independent Jewish Voices – Canada’s e-mail petition to President Wildeman, requesting that he refrain from interfering any further in the UWSA referendum results, which is an affront to the principle of academic freedom—which as President of the university—he should be striving towards protecting.