We have gathered here tonight because we care about this University, we know it is wildly adrift, and we demand that it do better. We come here from a variety of perspectives and positions. We are workers, librarians, students, faculty, and community members. We will not agree on everything, but we must agree on one thing, we are this university. Not David Naylor. Not Governing Council. Not wealthy donors like Peter Munk. The University of Toronto is composed of students, workers, and the public.
This is not a popular view down at Simcoe Hall. In their eyes and on their budget sheets, all of you lovely folks are one of two things – and many of you are both. You are either workers or commodities. Either way, you don’t deserve a seat at the decision making table, because as commodities you don’t speak, and as workers your perspectives don’t matter. You are things for Deans to manage. You are Basic Income Units. You feel like a number, because you are. You feel shut out, because you are. You feel like this University is failing, because it is.
Here, we are working to build something different. This is the most representative political body at this University. All of us have voice and vote in this body. We all experience this University’s failings, we think it can do better, and we, unlike our friends in Simcoe Hall, are willing to listen to, and work with each other to make sure it does do better.
Many of us have already committed hundreds of hours to this process and we will all have to dedicate countless more. This is not an easy task. The corporate university restructures our lives. It compartmentalizes us, individuates us, ranks us. And in doing this, the corporate university makes it more difficult for us to find each other, to trust each other—to organize and fight back.
We are not alone in our struggle against the educational-factory. At Universities around the world, students and workers are similarly working to reclaim their public institutions. In Wisconsin, when the Governor moved to destroy the meager remains of the New Deal, it was the quick action of workers, students, and faculty at the University of Wisconsin that stopped him. They stalled the Wisconsin State Senate with days of deputation and spent their nights on the floor of the Capitol Building. Those students and workers from Wisconsin show us our potential; Governor Walker shows us the depth of the menace we face.
At the last meeting of this General Assembly, in January, we agreed on 4 principles: that each member of the assembly has one vote; that decisions will be made with a 2/3 majority and an attempt to accommodate those who voted against the decision; that the assembly is accountable to no organization except itself; and that the Assembly is open to all members of the U of T community, broadly conceived. We also made some amazing headway in identifying priority areas in which to focus our work. Eleven working groups were developed, including: Anti-Corporatization, Academic Planning, Campus Space, Economic Accessibility and Funding, Environmental Justice and Sustainability, Equity, Governance and Accountability, International Solidarity, Labour, Political Direction, and University Life.
As for where we are going? Tonight, we will take on the task of agreeing on a basis of unity—a shared vision for this Assembly. This is an exciting step in figuring out what this experiment in self-governance will look like. But it is up to us to be creative and persistent in working hard and pushing for what we want this experiment to be.
And so, we are gathered here to fight, like our colleagues in Wisconsin, for the sanctity of our livelihoods, for our education, for the integrity of our public institutions, and for the very idea of the public. This fight is bigger than any of our narrow personal interests or those of any organization or union. Tonight is not about the future of the Faculty Association or CUPE 3902 or U.T.S.U., it is about the future of our university. And so, on a more severe note, let’s remind ourselves that interventions that fail to transcend narrow personal agendas have no place in this General Assembly. This principle deserves particular recognition tonight as we are in the heat of election season.