The Urbanite – Jon Liedtke – Mar. 3, 2014
A controversial referendum at the University of Windsor last week saw approximately 800 students endorse the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in the support of Palestinians against the Israeli government.
A break-and-enter of a University of Windsor Students’ Alliance executive office on Feb. 27 was classified as a hate crime by Windsor Police Service, who are continuing to investigate.
The Urbanite sat down for an exclusive interview with Alan Wildeman, University of Windsor president and vice-chancellor, regarding the recent events on campus.
When asked his reaction to the break-and-enter and the referendum as a whole, Wildeman emphasized that the UWSA is an independent corporation with its own mandate and that the University of Windsor was a safe campus.
“The UWSA … has a right to run a referendum and we have to respect the autonomy of our student governing bodies,” said Wildeman. “Having said that, in the course of the referendum as it was nearing the final stages, we became aware of the break-in. I started receiving other kinds of complaints and I wanted to reassure the community that the University of Windsor campus is a safe place and we’re not going to tolerate anything that compromises the safety or security of anyone regardless of who they are or where they come from.”
In a public statement posted online yesterday, Wildeman stated there were concerns with the referendum process overall, but he wouldn’t disclose the details.
“I’m not going to disclose them because of the investigation that we’re doing into it right now, and we need to look into them and make sure that we understand them and know which ones are ones that we need to look into more deeply,” said Wildeman.
When asked whether he’d been contacted by external parties such as alumni, politicians or private donors concerned about the recent events, Wildeman responded, “There’s many people tracking this situation, absolutely.”
Several Jewish students have voiced via social networks, the media and in private that they no longer feel safe on campus as a result of the referendum passing, but Wildeman emphasized that the campus was a safe place for all students.
“We take everybody’s concerns very seriously … If that’s how people feel we have to acknowledge it, but I want to really reinforce though that the University of Windsor campus has been a safe place and we’re going to do all we can to ensure that everybody is going to feel that way [safe],” he said. “But I don’t want to take away from the reality of how people feel.”
When asked whether he was concerned that the referendum could result in a less cohesive campus, Wildeman responded that he’d like the process to conclude before commenting.
“We want to emerge from this with the principle in tact that the university should be a place where difficult and complex issues in the world can be talked about and debated, but at the same time, do it in a context where everybody can be respected and respectful about it,” he said. “That has to be the goal, that has to be what we keep reinforcing for everybody.”
Wildeman said because the UWSA is an autonomous organization, there’s little the university can do to influence its operations.
“What the university can do, to any other corporation that has their own autonomy, is something that needs to be looked at legally. We’d only do what we could do, but we need to respect it,” he said. “And legally, if we try to interfere with their activities, we may not necessarily be able to.”
The issue has become federal in scope with Jason Kenney, minister of multiculturalism, tweeting an image of the defaced flag found in the UWSA executive via Twitter last week. Jeff Watson, MP Essex, stood in the House of Commons today to speak to the issue.
Wildeman stressed that he understood that BDS was highly polarizing and of importance to many students but stopped short of speculating what the impacts of the decision will be for the future of the university.
“This particular issue, about BDS, it’s a highly polarizing issue … and so it’s not surprising that it’s attracted attention. I’m not going to speculate on the lasting impact it might have … these are difficult issues, but we also can’t allow them to compromise our values.”
Several students have taken to social media to state that they were no longer interested in attending the university in the future due to the referendum passing and Wildeman expressed that this was a matter of concern.
“We’re committed to the University of Windsor campus being a safe place for everyone,” said Wildeman. “Obviously, I do not want to see people leave because of something like this, that would be definitely not something we would want to see happen.”
Wildeman reaffirmed that the current investigation needs to conclude before speculating as to how the university can move forward.
“We’re going to investigate the complaints that we’ve got and see what that leads to and then take whatever actions or options that might be needed at that time. But we want to do this as quickly as we can as well to get it done,” he said.
“It’s a polarizing issue and people are going to talk about it,” he added. “Some are going to be really unhappy with what is happening and some are going to be glad the debate is occurring and so it’s all over the spectrum.”
Jonathon Liedtke is the managing editor of The Urbanite, Windsor’s alternative newspaper. He is also a member of Windsor’s “Punk with Horns” band The Nefidovs, and as such, is committed to enhancing and sustaining the arts community.