Black Lives Matter and Indigenous justice movements call on us to confront the spread of policing throughout social life. The growing movements raise concerns over the self-serving relationships between criminal justice agencies and post-secondary institutions.
Particularly troubling, this includes the employment of active police officers as faculty in departments like criminology — relationships that violate standards of academic integrity and the pursuit of knowledge. But, even more, such relationships pose real threats and barriers to faculty, students and community members from racialized and disproportionately criminalized communities.
What does it mean when research is being initiated not to serve purposes of knowledge and social betterment, but the interests of specific state agencies? Would we trust environmental studies faculty or departments to tell the truth on pipelines if they worked for or with fossil fuel companies? Would we trust geography faculty or departments to be honest about the social and environmental ills of gold mining if they had a transactional relationship with the companies?
Why is it different if we are talking about faculty who are active officers or departments that have transactional relationships with police departments or prisons? Might we expect them to be honest about the histories and presents of policing and prisons in the context of Black Lives Matter and Indigenous rights movements, and the disproportionate incarceration of Black and Indigenous peoples?
Dangers to students
How safe can Black and Indigenous students from criminalized, targeted and surveilled communities feel coming to class when their instructor, with real material authority, is an active police officer? I have heard personally from students in these very circumstances that they do not feel safe at all. They do not feel they can participate freely, honestly and equally.
We can also think about other classroom impacts. Not only are active police provided a captive audience for recruitment and training — they also gain access to other students (perhaps with a promise of recruitment) who might aid “snitch lines” in the communities. It is too easy for them to be viewed through a lens of policing.
Active police officers on faculty also amounts to yet another transfer of public funds and resources toward policing. Instead of having to pay for recruitment and training sessions themselves, police agencies can get free access to possible recruits. And, in fact, the post-secondary system will have to pay for it (similarly, with resources devoted to co-operative programs in criminal justice and practicum classes).
These are resources, within limited institutional post-secondary budgets, that are diverted from academic provisions and put into police preferences or priorities
Threats to faculty and academic freedom
Where criminal justice agencies formalize relationships with criminology departments or faculty, criminology ends, and criminal justice institutionalism takes over.
This can include academic resources being devoted to recruitment and training, rather than honest understanding (and criticism). It can include the targeting, disciplining or silencing of critical faculty, who might be viewed as a threat to the transactional relationship with criminal justice agencies. And there is the threat by those agencies that elements of that transactional relationship — co-op placements, practicums (free labour, after all) and job inducements — will be sacrificed if recalcitrant faculty do not get in line.
In one context I have been told directly by an active RCMP faculty member that the RCMP may have to reconsider their relationships with a department simply because one critical faculty member was said to have made police officers and corrections staff “feel uncomfortable” at an event ostensibly hosted in support of prisoners.
Why were cops and guards there in the first place? This was an attack on academic freedom and the responsibilities of critical thinking for the social sciences and humanities themselves. And criminalized people who attended the event (for prisoner justice) did not feel they could participate meaningfully with law enforcement officers present.
In another case, an active RCMP officer on faculty took issue with a critical criminologist for wearing a T-shirt from a Black-led grassroots community organization, with predominantly Black membership, that fights racist policing. A T-shirt. Police expect full control over the spaces they occupy.
What is worse, and emblematic of the risks to academic integrity and freedom posed by transactional relations between academia and criminal justice agencies, other faculty asserted their commitments to policing on the basis of needing to ensure students had access to criminal justice system jobs.
Most incredibly, there followed an attempt to pass a departmental statement of respect for police and policing. An oath of allegiance to policing, if you will.
Threats to community
This all, once again, more negatively impacts Black and Indigenous people of colour, and poor people — people who are disproportionately criminalized by racist and class-based colonial institutions, who should at least expect more at public university campuses.
It is another form of violence, another form of erasure and silencing, and a barrier to free and equal participation.
And this reproduces systemic racism and white supremacy. I have had Black and Indigenous community members, respected organizers, tell me they do not feel safe coming to campus — at a public university — for meetings or public events like lectures or conferences because of the expectation of encountering active police who are on faculty.
Organizations of drug users and homeless people desperately needing space to meet express similar concerns. I have had groups who used to meet on campus stop coming for the same reasons.
At a public university, the public are denied access to what are supposed to be their resources as members of the community — all to give even more space over to police.
Inasmuch as they reproduce relations of inequality and their impacts impose greater harms on racialized and poor people, active cops on faculty are part of the systemic racism that is part of policing structures themselves.
Canadians expect that as part of basic constitutional and human rights they are free from undue surveillance or monitoring by police. How can this hold if active police who are faculty have access to student emails and other communications? How can this hold if active police are on faculty-wide and departmental email lists, and can monitor faculty communications with each other about workplace or other academic matters? How can academic freedoms be ensured?
Certainly most labour unions would object to surveillance of their members by active police. Why not faculty unions?
These are not just problems of bias. All ideas are situated. It is material in character and consequences.
It is part of a transactional relationship (namely jobs and resources) in a context of the neoliberal university increasingly oriented toward and beholden to jobs, “employment experiences” and “commercial uses” as measures of academic purpose and viability, and where employment rates for graduates can impact funding or even survival of departments in social sciences and humanities.
These are times when the structures of systemic racism, policing and criminal justice are being addressed head-on, on a broader and more honest basis.
So let’s be honest. No copaganda in classrooms. It’s past time to take cops off campus.
Jeff Shantz is a longtime union member, currently with Local 5 of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators (FPSE, B.C. Federation of Labour). He is a founding organizer with Anti-Police Power Surrey ([email protected]), a grassroots community group in Surrey (Unceded Coast Salish territories). He teaches on corporate crime and community advocacy at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. His publications include Manufacturing Phobias: The Political Production of Fear in Theory and Practice (University of Toronto Press), and the Crisis and Resistance trilogy (Punctum Books).