Posts in "sfu"

A letter to the Simon Fraser Student Society regarding the Goldcorp donation to SFU

Dear members of the Board of Directors of the Simon Fraser Student Society,

Hi! Greetings from Tropical Toronto. Long time no talk. As many of you are likely aware, my name is Kevin Harding and I am an alumnus of Simon Fraser University (BA Hons. Political Science and Labour Studies ’10), and someone who looks back very warmly on my time as an active member of the Simon Fraser Student Society, and even warmly-er on my time working for and with the organisation as both an active member of student unions at the university and as a staff person at the SFSS.

I’m writing to you today about the recent Goldcorp donation to the university, and the coalition that I’ve heard (and observed, long distance) is in formation in opposition to this particular ‘gift’ of ten million dollars. In particular, I’m writing to you to take a stand in this matter – while it is an absolute shame that SFU is so cash-strapped that it needs to seek out private funding in this way, it’s an absolute outrage that the university takes funds (and names buildings!) from a corporation that is allegedly* engaging in practices that destroy environments and violate workers’ and human rights.

In particular, I’d like you, as members of the Board, to consider one thing that particularly bothers me: students in the SFU contemporary arts program have absolutely no choice as to where they engage in their learning, it’s at the Goldcorp Center for the Arts. Goldcorp donated ten million dollars to the university to name that building and ‘support’ its programming. While it’s impossible to say, dollar-for-dollar, where that money came from, there’s a very good chance that some or all of it came from the mining operations in Guatemala — in effect, the money that Goldcorp donated to the university may well have come into the hands of SFU could easily be the result of horrendous and exploitative practices in Guatemala and other locations. Because that money is paying for the name and operations of the fine arts centre downtown, the students who take fine arts courses — and by extension ALL SFU students, SFSS members, and members of the university community — are indirectly and involuntarily benefitting from the exploitation and horrendous practices that Goldcorp is (allegedly*) engaged in.

When the situation isn’t gold but diamonds, we call the product blood diamonds and ban them. It seems that there isn’t a recognized equivalent of blood gold or blood donations, but perhaps there should be.

Now, while any number of fine arts and general SFU students may well be rather strongly opposed to the practices of Goldcorp, because the university accepted the funding and renamed the building, everything’s tainted. It sounds polemical, but it’s kind of the case — consider it a giant ethical picket line that students MUST cross, each and every day that they enter the Goldcorp Center for the Arts to do some contemporary dance, choreography, filmwork, or any of the other amazing things that they do down there.

I spoke to Andrew Petter when he was in Toronto, meeting alumni. Presidents of universities, as they eye alumni wallets, like to say that alumni have a responsibility to help the university develop and grow. I told him that this wasn’t the way to do this. He asked me if SFU should then just stop accepting donations, and told me that it wasn’t possible to start sorting out the ‘bad’ corporations from the ‘good.’ While I like Andrew, and was on the committee that hired him, I don’t think this is an acceptable answer and I told him so.

But I’m just one alumnus. And the Simon Fraser Student Society represents over twenty thousand current students of SFU. Your voice is louder than mine. And you’re in Burnaby.

I would encourage the Simon Fraser Student Society to join the coalition of students and other concerned community groups that is opposing the Goldcorp donation.

There’s any number of reasons why. The transformation of culture into capital that can then be capitalized upon. The privatization of the university piece by piece. Expanded reproduction, accumulation by dispossession. The ‘cleansing’ of Goldcorp’s dirty reputation by funding the arts — and the consequent ‘tarring’ of the arts at Simon Fraser. The, in my mind, unconscionable consequences of indirectly and involuntarily benefitting from Goldcorp’s (allegedly*) exploitative and harmful practices as a student of Simon Fraser University.

The university will ask you what you think they should do. Should they just give the money back? Should they just stop accepting donations? To respond to the first question, I think that they should certainly think about it, or perhaps SFU could be generous and fund some projects in Guatemala, perhaps to the tune of $10 million. To answer the second, well, the university quite likely can’t just stop taking donations — we’d likely do as well if we decided to stop breathing.

However – and this is a big however – the university MUST develop a policy that will outline the ethical commitments of the university community when it comes to donations, publish this policy, and then evaluate every offered donation against these ethical commitments. Combine this policy with the proposed ethical procurement policy. If SFU is committed to changing is purchasing towards buying only ethically produced and fairly traded supplies and products, then why can’t it stick to the same ethics when it comes to accepting corporate cash?

There are any number of ethical investment funds in the world — Vancity has some, and other credit unions do to. Find out their policies and how they determine whether or not a company is ‘ethical’ and apply the same, or better, guidelines to donations to the university.

SFU, as a university that is forever thinking of the world (but perhaps not doing anything about it) needs to step up to the plate and do something about that world of which it is thinking.

And the SFSS and the SFU administration need to work together to make the provincial government fund the university in a sustainable way in order to ensure that the university doesn’t have to limp along, seeking out and accepting corporate cash.

I will suggest to you that a majority of students at SFU would not support the practices that Goldcorp (allegedly*) engages in. And meekly sitting by and not pointing out the contradictions between SFU’s claims that it thinks of the world and its actions makes the students indirectly and involuntarily complicit.

I would strongly suggest that the SFSS take a stand and support the coalition opposed to the Goldcorp donation. It’s the ethical — and right — thing to do.

I am happy to help in whatever way I may be able to from Toronto, with advise or so forth.

Thank you for your time,

kevin harding
ma candidate • political science
york university • toronto, canada
SFSS Member 2005 – 2010
SFSS Forum Member 2006-7
Chairperson of the Labour Studies Student Union 2007-8
SFSS Student Employee 2006-2009
SFSS General Office Coordinator 2009-2010

* – allegedly is the term you use when the allegations haven’t been proven in a court of law, to cover your ass.

“Do not simply, passively, only just think of the world. Change it too.”

Friends,

Many people have asked me to share the text of my remarks to convocation today. You’ll find them below.

But first – I really, truly, and strongly believe that all of our experiences from our adventures at university have been influenced by the people that we’ve been lucky to go through them with. All of you — from my closest friends to those of us who really just wave ‘hi’ in the hallway — have been a part of my experiences at SFU, and you all have contributed in some way.

When I started writing these remarks, I wanted to think of some way that we could all be a part of the event. In the end, much of what I wrote and said has a connection to many of you – my friends – because I have been influenced by you, because you are all amazing people, and because we’ve managed to somehow spend some part of the past five years together. There are a number of references in the speech that I meant to be associated with specific people.

So many of you are not letting the world ‘just be’. You are not passively ‘thinking of the world.’ You are all, truly amazing.

Thank you for sharing yourselves with me during our adventures so far, and I’m looking forward to the ones to come.

with love and solidarity and all the best wishes,

kevin

—–

Mr. President, Mr. Chancellor, faculty, staff, guests, and friends and family,

Thank you all for coming together, here at this [rarely sunny / often dreary] concrete campus, to celebrate the graduation of this class of Simon Fraser students.

While it is next to impossible to speak for such a diverse body of students, I would like, on their behalf, to offer a very sincere and very heartfelt thank you to the staff of the university who make sure it works, to the faculty who help us learn, and to our friends and family who have supported us in many ways. And, of course, my most heartfelt congratulations to all of us who are graduating today.

Today is a day of celebration. We are graduating with BAs, MAs, or PhDs, in subjects that vary from Anthropology to Women’s Studies. Our graduation marks our successful completion of programs of study in what many term to be an institution of enlightenment – the university. Our experiences here, despite the all too common fog, rain, stairs, and concrete, have brought light into our lives. That the university is an institution of enlightenment is uncontroversial.

But today is also a day of reflection. And on reflection, I want to suggest something that is perhaps a bit controversial. The parchment that each of us is receiving today may not be worth anything at all.

To understand this, we need look no further than the university’s corporate slogan, emblazoned on every business card, letterhead, and program in this space.

What does it say? “Thinking of the world.” This is what we proclaim we do here. It is a slogan that seems worthy of greeting cards. It is not enough.

When we are just thinking of the world, we may say we understand exploitation, but we may not do anything to change the fact that there are more slaves today than at any time in human history.

When we are just thinking of the world, we may say we think of the value of the university as a place where conventional knowledge can be challenged, but we might tolerate actions that chill debate and dissent in the academy, turning it into a place that reinforces the dominant ways that harm so many.

When we are just thinking of the world, we may say we see the value of a public education, but we may not challenge the creeping corporatization that sees publicly funded research as something to be privately sold for private profit, that sees the workers at the university as costs to be managed and minimized, and students as products to be produced as quickly and plentifully as possible.

To twist a philosopher’s words, we have hitherto merely thought of the world. The point, however, is to change it.

Paulo Freire has said that “true reflection leads to action.” We must do the same. We, as SFU graduates, have thought a lot about the world. We must now start to change it.

It seems absurd to stand here and extol the virtues of education and of the university; this supposed institution of enlightenment. The light that is education and the university, as a way to see past the way things are now to see how things ought to beis powerful and empowering. It is passion and compassion. It is so much more. With it, we can transcend thinking of the world and go from here and change it. But a terrifying darkness is encroaching.

A good friend of mine stood in this place and told a different graduating class the story of how his family witnessed the destruction of the Old City Library in Sarajevo, as they were forced to leave. He told his graduating class that his family wept, because as they watched the library burn, they knew that their and other lives were about to slip into a blinding darkness without freedom, beauty, justice, or the prospect of things to come. This is the darkness.

War is with us. For now. Oppression is with us. For now. Exploitation is with us. For now. The creeping corporatization of the university is with us. For now. Surely we have thought so much about the world that this is obvious. The darkness is encroaching. For now.

This does not have to be the case. We have been thinking of the world, now it is time to change it.

It seems both impossible and terrifying to challenge you to change the world. How can we do this? How can we change the world? Live this question, live the change. Ignore the supposed impossibility of changing the world and do it – and then, after we have done it, we can check back to see if it was so impossible.

Some of us are already doing this. Students from SFU are building schools in Ghana and around the world. They are working for non-profit organisations in Canada, working to erase poverty, bring education and equality to disadvantaged populations, to save the environment from destruction. Some of us are researching cures to diseases, on more just ways of organizing society, and some are fighting for public education. Whether it be fundraising or researching or standing up for what they believe in, they are working to change the world.

We have a variety of skills that we have learned in our various classes. We can change the world. Some of us are already actively working at this. The rest of us can start today. To repeat Paul Hawken: YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING.

We who are graduating today have a particular challenge. We are receiving congratulations, but we also receive a responsibility. We have been given a gift, a gift of light. We must now protect it, we must guard it, we must cherish it, and we must share it.

Without this light, in the darkness, the parchments that we have are worthless.

Therefore, I have a simple message; one that I ask you, that I beg you, that I plead with you, to take to heart. Do not just, simply, passively, only think of the world. Change it too. Guard and share the light. Think of the world. Reflect on it. Change it.

It is our responsibility. We can change the world. Nous sommes prêts. We are ready. Let’s change the world.

Thank you and congratulations.

envision education / get involved with the university community

“envision education”
A community-led visioning workshop – creating a new vision for our university

What is this event?
“envision education” is a community-led visioning workshop that brings together members of the university community to develop a plan for our university. Community resistance to cutbacks, budget reductions, layoffs, and program elimination is met with two general responses: “what would you rather us do?” and “there is no alternative.” A workshop that brings together the university community will enable us to develop an alternative, and propose ideas that we can work for at our university.
Think of your ideas that would answer these questions: what should our university be? What should education be? How do we get there?
The workshop will be led by organizers with the SFU Community Coalition, and is open to all members of the university community.

When and where?
The workshop will be held on Friday, May 15th from 11:30am to 1:30pm in room MBC 2290 at the SFU Burnaby campus.

Who can participate?
All members of the university community are welcome to participate – a broad range of participation allows us to develop a wide and encompassing idea of what we think our university should be.

How do I sign up?
If you would like to attend and participate in the visioning workshop, please confirm your attendance by contacting Kevin Harding by email at kharding@sfu.ca. Please include your name, email address, and which campus constituency you belong to (APSA, CUPE, SFUFA, TSSU, GSS, SFSS, Poly Party, or other) to help the organizers plan for numbers. Please register by May 14th.

What do I need to bring?
Mostly yourself – we hope to have representation from all the community constituencies so that we can bring together a wide vision of what the university should be. Bring your thoughts on what you think the university and education should be, and how we can get there.

The take-home message?
· “envision education”
· a community-led visioning workshop – creating a new vision for our university
· Friday, May 15th, 11:30am-1:30pm.
· Register by emailing your details to kharding@sfu.ca
· Think about these questions: what should our university be? What should education be? How do we get there?