The same day that the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel is committing genocide in Palestine, the President and CEO of snəw̓eyəɬ leləm̓ – Langara College, Dr. Burns, fired English Instructor Dr. Natalie Knight for participating in a rally against that same genocide.
It looks like Dr. Burns is trying to remove all opposition to genocide in Palestine from campus.
Her campaign started last fall after English instructor Dr. Natalie Knight spoke at a rally for Palestine at the end of October. Dr. Knight expressed her support for the Palestine resistance to the Israeli occupation. Zionist politicians, organizations and media pundits all demanded that Dr. Knight be fired.
The college put Dr. Knight on paid leave and Dr. Burns issued an ominous email to all workers and students on campus stating that “an employee shared their personal views during a public event in Vancouver. These views do not represent those of the College and while the matter is under investigation, the employee is currently on leave.” A nearly identical message was sent out a few days later. Dr. Burn’s message was clear: if you say something the president disagrees with, you risk punishment.
Free speech policy
The President’s email seemed to directly contradict the college’s free speech policy, which reads, “Colleges and universities operate on the principle that academic freedom and freedom of expression are core components of intellectual enquiry and are central to the pursuit of knowledge. The value colleges and universities place on these principles does not imply their endorsement of views that are expressed.”
Later on, the policy expresses the commonly held view, “academic freedom and freedom of expression are intended to protect expression of ideas that are not popular.”
The president refused to meet with concerned faculty and left Dr. Knight on leave for nearly three months, with no idea when or if she would be able to return to work.
On Tuesday, January 26 students and workers gathered on campus for a rally in support of Palestine and calling for Dr. Knight’s reinstatement. All of the organizing paid off and Dr. Knight announced at the rally that she had just got her job back.
Students and workers were kept out of their own college buildings during the rally by a large police presence. The police also tried to get student reporters from the college journalism department to leave.
Cabinet minister intervenes
The response to the rally from the BCNDP government and the college was swift. Selina Robinson, the Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills tweeted on Thursday afternoon that she was “disappointed that this instructor continues to have a public post secondary platform… I have met with the @Langaracollege leadership to express my concerns…” Last year Minister Robinson tweeted that people attending a rally in solidarity with Palestine, “have no humanity.”
Twenty minutes after the Minister’s tweet, Dr. Burns sent out an email to all workers and students: “The College takes seriously its responsibility to create a safe and respectful environment, free from discrimination. This is why we are very concerned about the events that unfolded at a rally at Langara this week which have impacted our community.”
The email contained no details of the rally, or the demands to stop the genocide. Most people on campus would only have heard about the rally by way of the president’s ominous words that imply something terrible happened. The same tactic was repeated a second time in the brief email, “Our aim is to provide an environment where differing views can be held and expressed in a way that promotes human dignity for all and protects the safety of our students and staff.”
A college president and a cabinet minister who go to such lengths to defame opposition to genocide harm human dignity. Why is the BCNDP government trying to suppress opposition to genocide?
Then on Friday we found out the results of the minister’s meeting with the president. Dr. Burns fired Dr. Knight. The same smear tactics were used again in a campus wide email. Bizarrely it started by announcing that there were no grounds for Dr. Knight’s original punishment and that she had been reinstated. But now she has been fired.
“The College made the determination that the employee would return to work with the expectation they would comply with the College’s policies and initiatives which support a safe, respectful, and inclusive learning and working environment. Further, they were expected to take care to ensure any future remarks could not reasonably be interpreted as celebrating violence against civilians.”
The employee proceeded to engage in activities contrary to the expectations laid out by the College and as a result this employee is no longer an employee of Langara College.”
Clearly the goal of the college President is not a campus where it is safe for differing views to be expressed, but one where only the views of the President may be championed. Those who are opposed to genocide, ethnic cleansing, Apartheid, starvation, wanton bombing of families in their homes, and all the other horrors by Israel that Canada supports, must fear for their jobs.
Now is not the time to back down. College and university campuses have always been places where progressive students battle the defenders of reaction in the admin offices. And the students and workers on campus can win. Right now, on campus solidarity with Palestine is very popular. In just a few weeks last fall, over 700 students and workers signed a petition to the federal government calling for Canada to call for a ceasefire, an end to the siege, and an end to arms and aid to Israel. We can build on this movement on campus as part of the wider movement to force the Canadian government to take action against the genocide. It’s time for a cross campus walkout to confront the college admin and the provincial and federal governments who support genocide.
Bring back Dr. Knight!
Fire Dr. Burns!