Posts tagged "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.

…an unfinished thought…

I was asked, recently, to participate in an interview at the university about the president‘s ‘legacy’, given that he will be retiring in a few months. An interesting question.

As is common with me, the conversation drifted during the interview, from what the president’s legacy might be to what it should be and why education in general was so important. Standard discussion material.

We somehow turned to the university’s wordmark: “thinking of the world.”. It appears on the website, on business cards, and everywhrere. It’s supposed to imply that we are a worldly university, that we are engaged in the world, that the world is not something abstracted from us.

But it’s an unfinished thought.

To drag a haunting spectre out of the shadows, Karl Marx wrote, “hitherto, philosophers have merely interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it.”

SFU certainly hasn’t taken the idea to heart. We’re merely “thinking of the world” while the point is to change it. The motto of the university lacks action. It is passive.

There are a number of links between the passive motto and the reality of the university–I’m not going to say cause and effect, or even correlation, but the university seems to have been passive lately. Passive in our reaction to creeping corporatization, passive to insidious underfunding, passive to a lot of evil.

Why? Well, our letterhead proclaims the answer.

We’re merely “thinking of the world.”

The point, however, is to change it.