U of T's Governing Council should watch its step -- there's a new challenger in the neighbourhood: The U of T General Assembly. January 19 marked the first meeting of this new body and the results were remarkable!
This collective of over two hundred students, professors, unionized workers, alumni, librarians, administrative staff and friends of the U of T community gathered for an inaugural strategy session at the Multi-Faith Centre on Spadina. The participants voted on procedural methods to be used for the evening and then built a list of subjects to be addressed by smaller discussion groups.
The aim of this broad-based, open collective is to envision and ultimately create an alternative mode of governance for our university. That point was emphasized by the facilitators and the participants: this is our university -- it is not the personal fief of the Governing Council or Simcoe Hall.
It belongs to the people of Ontario, including those in the past whose taxes and donations gave birth to the institution. It belongs to the graduate and undergraduate students enrolled here, those who have graduated, as well as those forced to leave because they could not afford to complete their studies. It belongs to the cleaners, groundskeepers, technicians, and mechanics -- all of whom preserve, maintain, and improve the institution's physical structure. It belongs to the instructors, professors, lecturers, teaching assistants, researchers and all the associates and guest scholars who believe this university must be more than a job-training centre. It belongs to those who live on campus and in its vicinity.
There was standing-room only as the members assembled a preliminary set of topics and then broke into groups to share their ideas and decide on concrete actions together. It was time to pull up a chair and get to work. Eleven groups tackled topics ranging from fighting corporatization and Governing Council accountability, to quality of education, academic planning and university student life.
International and out of province students deliberated next to a circle considering international solidarity while another group focused on labour issues at U of T. Some gathered to discuss political direction, to guarantee a safe and welcoming environment for all participants, while another set of participants looked at the allocation of space at U of T. In addition, equity, the environment and financial accessibility each drew interested activists.
The quality of the conversations was inspiring, thanks to the seriousness and commitment shown by the participants. Enthusiasm did not mean drowning out another voice; indeed, most of the sessions unfolded in the same large room, with each group quietly addressing a distinct subject. The space hummed with the soft voices of people sharing, connecting and learning from each other.
As the meeting drew to a close, the members recognized the momentum gained through this exchange of ideas and committed to gathering again by the end of March. Each group sent a representative to the steering committee which will organize the agenda for the next meeting.
It was an invigorating exercise that energized the members and demonstrated the power of collective politics. You won't want to miss the next gathering of the U of T General Assembly -- this is a body that can contest Simcoe Hall's agenda and challenge the lackeys on the Governing Council. Come out and help make history happen.