Beginning at 6 PM on Wednesday, the University of Toronto will shut its doors in advance of the G20 summit. Well, most of its doors. The Munk School of Global Affairs will remain open for the duration of the summit, something students say reflects a disregard for critical dialogue on campus.
On Wednesday, a group of about thirty people, composed mostly of students and workers from the University of Toronto, rallied at the Hyatt on at Bloor St. and Avenue Rd., to protest a conference on “global economic governance” sponsored by the Munk School of Global Affairs. Carrying banners identifying U of T as a “bunker for global capitalism” and calling for “real democracy,” the group walked through the U of T campus to the Hyatt.
“In the face of the fact that the rest of our campus is closing while the Munk School for Global Affairs is staying open during the G8/G20 summits, student organisations from across campus came together to make sure they were not forgotten,” says Angela Regnier, executive director of the University of Toronto Students’ Union. “We’re hoping that this action will send a message not just to the leaders, but other people on our campus that we’re ready to defend the right to education and the right to academic freedom.”
The Munk School of Global Affairs is the newest school at the University of Toronto. It was established through a $35 million donation from Peter Munk, the largest private donation ever provided to a Canadian university. Munk is the founder and chairman of Barrick Gold, a Canadian mining company that has been denounced for human rights violations.
While the Munk School will remain open, key campus services including the student food bank and counselling services, will not be open. The Council of Canadians was forced to change the location of its Shout Out for Global Justice event which was scheduled to take place on campus on Friday.
Last week, several campus organisations, including student and labour unions, announced that they would remain open despite the campus closure.
“If the university is dedicated to ensuring that there is community discussion about the G20 and its implications for people here on turtle island and around the world, then it has to be open to everybody to have their own events,” says Clare O'Conner, of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group – Toronto. “We went today to demonstrate that we are going to stay open and we are going to participate in these discussions even though they are trying to exclude us.”
Danielle Sandhu, Vice President Equity of the University of Toronto Students’ Union says that the decision of U of T administrators to close down the campus reflects a broader trend in the university to stifle dissent and concentrate power in the hands of a few administrators, rather than the student, staff, and faculty that those decisions impact.
While U of T has cut funding to some of its Arts and Science programs, including disability studies, the federal government was able to provide $25 million for the Munk School. This type of targeting funding circumvents the standard academic planning process, a democratic process including students, staff, and faculty, adds Regnier.
Munk, specifically, has a history of stifling criticisms launched against him within the academic community.
Academics who have spoken out against Barrick Gold Corp. have faced lawsuits, and posters criticizing Peter Munk were removed by U of T administrators.
“It’s concerning to me that the only thing that motivates the university of Toronto to defend its poster boards is if you criticize Peter Munk,” said Antonin Mongeau, Alum Chairman for U of T’s French club in an interview last year. “I also know that groups that try to raise awareness about mining have had their room bookings pulled 10 minutes before an event is about to happen: things of that nature. So there is clearly an attempt to silence any dissent on the mining issue which is very concerning.”
Sandhu says that students from U of T and universities and colleges across the city will participate in G20 resistance throughout the week.
“You can shut your doors, you can hide behind the police, but we will be out there, we will be speaking our minds, and we will make sure we express our dissent with the G20 structures and its frightening parallels on our campus,” she says.
With files from Carmelle Wolfson and Megan Cotton-Kinch.