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McGill Campus Politics

(in which I discuss how a university administration should relate to students)

“McGill University, like all universities, has an administrative superstructure and an academic structure overlaid one on the other. As with many universities, this superstructure is generally ignored by much of the student body. The spate of recent controversies over the administration and student input, from the recent course cuts to the Provisional Protocol regarding Demonstrations makes this a good time as ever to talk about how our university should be run.”

Read more at: http://mcgilltribune.com/university-governance-students-and-stakeholders/

(In which I look at a set of twin cuts; one to the provincial education budget, and one to McGill’s class catalog)

“At the beginning of last term, I wrote that this year would—hopefully—be free of the sort of acrimonious student politics that characterized 2011-2012 at McGill. Recent events have put the lie to that hope. While much of the attention on campus is currently centered around The Daily’s fee referendum, a more important set of controversies goes directly to what sort of education we will have as this university moves forward.”

You can read further here: http://mcgilltribune.com/cuts-and-an-inconsequential-conversation/

The piece triggered yet another angry letter to the paper from a campus columnist who does not need to be named in this forum. However, you can read what he had to say here: http://mcgilltribune.com/re-cuts-and-an-inconsequential-conversation-jan-29/

The further controversy the piece triggered led to an interview with TVMcGill, which you can see in the second portion of this video: http://www.tvmcgill.com/2013/03/29/tvm-reads-the-paper/

(In which I discuss why university divestment programs are a bad idea)

“A large part of the difference in the policy prescriptions that we see from the Left and Right can be attributed to the logic they apply to political and policy problems. In terms of social issues, we see that those on the Right tend to frame problems within an absolutist moral framework, and anything that falls short of this standard is vigorously opposed.

[…]

Ironically, when we shift to environmental issues, we can see the more absolute moral framework being applied by left-wing activists.”

Read more at: http://mcgilltribune.com/divest-what-the-flawed-thinking-behind-university-divestment/

The latest in a not particularly long evolution of columns.

The latest in a not particularly long evolution of columns.

Part 1 of a multi-part series, this time looking at the highlights of my own body of work.

Over the past year and a half, I have written a total of 15 columns for the McGill Tribune. Most of them have been alright, some have been good, and some have been decidedly mediocre.  But that goes for anyone who writes. I decided here that it would be useful to look back at the general evolution of my pieces, and, of course, the hits and misses.

My first column for the Tribune was a piece on the controversy on the constitutionality of Obamacare and why the Supreme Court should vote to uphold the law. It was an unremarkable column; perhaps the most memorable aspect of it was that the folks at the Tribune misspelled my name as “AbrahamMassouko”. The writing itself was competent though not top-notch, and the opinion expressed (Obamacare is a decent though flawed attempt at reform, and the bill works under the Commerce Clause as previously interpreted) is about as original as the selection of panelists on a  Sunday show roundtable.

Over the time I’ve been writing columns, I  have struggled with the question of whether to focus the space on happenings on campus, or things happening elsewhere, be they provincial, national, or international. Campus politics are often (contrary to the claims of some) unimportant, except for the very, very few times when they are important.  Of the columns I have done, a third—five—have centered on campus politics. Two of these pieces, “Safe Space Strife” and “Moral Superiority and Student Politics” were incredibly controversial, and I’ll address the controversies around them later. In general, I have found that my columns discussing campus politics were among my better pieces, especially in comparison to some I have done taking a well analyzed but not particularly strong stance on a non-campus issue.

The problem with all student journalism on the McGill campus, however, is its general irrelevance to the wider student body, and I include my own columns in this. This is why controversy, while certainly uncomfortable when semi-anonymous internet commenters are casting aspersions on your fitness for society, is also refreshing in that it is proof that people outside of the 30 or so friends that can be cajoled into reading your columns are actually reading your work.  “Strife” and “Superiority”, as just mentioned, were undoubtedly the most controversial columns I have written, with both prompting letters to the editor, a phenomenon that is fairly rare at the Tribune.

For those unfamiliar, “Safe Space Strife” was a bit of a departure from  my normal columns in that it involved actual reporting, in this case on rumors of an intra-executive dispute at Queer McGill. The piece discussed the removal of one of the executives at the organization on the grounds of an arguably dubious Equity Complaint. While it went on to become one of the most-read pieces on the Tribune’s site for several weeks—likely the result of  being referenced in a “McGill Memes” posting— it also prompted complaint from the dismissed executive; in his view I had misrepresented his side of the story. I also was contacted by my then-editor about complaints about the piece from unnamed sources. In the end, a small correction adjusting one of the facts ran in the next issue, and the dismissed executive wrote a letter to the editor further outlining his side of the story. While I think I did an alright job with that piece, it definitely was a missed opportunity in many respects.

On the other hand, “Moral Superiority and Student Politics” is, in my humble opinion, one of the best pieces I have written for the Tribune. The first of my columns this year, “Superiority” was  a commentary on one of the major elements of rhetoric implicit (and sometimes explicit) in much of the campus left, which is that involvement in campus politics is some sort of “obligation” in the fight for global social justice. As I discussed, that sort of rhetoric was laid on thick during the MUNACA and student strikes last year. One of the columnists I referenced (but did not name) as an example of such “sanctimoniousness” posted the article for condemnation on their facebook profile (the posting is public), and condemned it was, as “trash”,  a “piece of shit”, and other such invective. The article itself also generated a decent sized comment thread, a rarity on the Tribune website. Two letters to the editor were also sent to the paper the next week, the first of which actually made fair points about the piece. The second one could probably be described more as comic relief than anything, or proof positive of my original point.

So what’s next? In general, I would say that my columns have improved over the time I’ve been writing, but at a far slower pace after my pieces from late last year.  Next term should feature at least one or two on-campus controversies worth writing about, and I probably will try my hand at some other forms of journalistic writing. We’ll see.

(In which I discuss a recent report criticizing McGill’s policies on free speech)

“Is there free speech on our campus? That depends on who’s talking. According to the libertarian Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), when it comes to protecting controversial speech, McGill University—like most Canadian universities—fails miserably. In the wake of these accusations, we must rethink the boundaries we set between offensive speech and simply controversial speech.

It’s worth noting that the report has received sparse coverage in campus media. Aside from an editorial the Tribune ran last week (“Safe Spaces on campus do not repress free speech”), there has been no mention from the other two main English campus outlets—the McGill Daily and the Bull and Bear. Nor did the news sections of any of the major campus papers reach out to either the Students Society of McGill University (SSMU) or the McGill administration for comment.”

Read more here: http://mcgilltribune.com/when-if-ever-can-speech-be-sanctioned/

A perspective on the SSMU 4floors costume controversy you probably have not heard.

Last Thursday, October 25th, The Students Society of McGill University (SSMU) held its annual 4Floors Halloween party inside the William Shatner University building. Several days later, the Bull and Bear, the Management faculty based newspaper, posted a photo album with pictures of costumes worn at the party. Inside were pictures of several costumes—some that contained blackface (pictures), others that  referenced Mexican stereotypes—which sparked complaint. The SSMU yesterday released a “formal apology” for the costumes, and a piece on the controversy ran in today’s McGill Daily. The Daily also published an editorial expressing predictable outrage at the situation. If you haven’t already, read both pieces and the apology for context.

Because part of the controversy centered on costumes that referenced Mexican stereotypes, the Daily contacted Luis Pombo, Vice President of Communication for the Spanish and Latin American Students’ Association of  McGill University (SLASA). They submitted a response to the Daily, which is reprinted—with permission—verbatim below. For reasons unknown, this response was not included in the Daily news piece linked above.

“We at the Spanish and Latin American Students’ Association condemn all forms of discrimination against Hispanics, Latin Americans and any other culture. The portrayal of Latin American stereotypes and the misrepresentation of our values go against our belief in an equal, fair and multicultural society. Above all, we at SLASA believe in tolerance, freedom of choice and respect for differences. Nevertheless, the special and specific circumstances in which the present claim is done does not represent a direct confrontation to these beliefs. A Halloween costume, granted that mockery is not intentional, does not present a direct offence against our culture. Although we do not encourage the use of specific stereotypes of Latin American cultures, we do not feel offended by their use neither in the 4 Floors party context nor in the general celebration of Halloween.”

The response was co-authored by:

Carlos Marin Capriles (President), and Luis Pombo Reyes (VP Communications)

A pretty controversial way to start off the year:

“One of the things that has not come back with such speed is student politics, and for this we should be thankful. Sure, we’ve once again been subjected to the tiresome debate over whether frosh is an incubator of racist, patriarchal rape culture, but in general, the mood around campus is pretty calm compared to this time last year, when the MUNACA strike was giving campus opinion pages more than enough fiery rhetoric to work with.

And so, in this time of calm, I thought it would be useful to examine one of the main streams of thought that runs through the ranks of the more politically-minded on campus. There’s a prevailing view that involvement in student politics—and only on one ideological side—is not simply one of many perfectly legitimate and fulfilling uses of time, but an action that is on a higher moral plane than any other.”

Read more here: http://mcgilltribune.com/?p=15653

The piece was, as you could imagine, rather polarizing. in the next issue, there were two letters to the editor, one of which was a somewhat nuanced critique:

“In his recent article, “Moral superiority and student politics,” Abraham Moussako argues that students have no duty to participate in campus politics. I’d like to refute that idea by arguing that judgements about the duty to participate are necessarily made in reference to particular facts about a particular issue.  In other words, we can’t make blanket statements about the moral status of political participation.”

The rest of that letter is here: http://mcgilltribune.com/?p=15871

The second letter was somewhat less nuanced:

“As a known student radical and victim of police brutality, I find Abraham Moussako’s Guest Column (“Moral superiority and student politics”) generally callous and presumptuous. In particular (and more relevant to my critique), I found the text personally offensive.”

The rest of that letter is here: http://mcgilltribune.com/?p=15868

 

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