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Dalhousie University shouldn’t be running its own court system

From parties to Facebook posts, Dal wants to police the personal lives of its students.

Dalhousie University shouldn’t be running its own court system
it is impossible to imagine that Masuma Khan’s not-particularly-unreasonable use of profanity was the most offensive or hurtful thing that a Dal student has posted on the internet between July and today.

It’s rarely a good thing when Dalhousie University gets a lot of national attention. Unfortunately for Dal, two big stories plunged it back the national spotlight last week.

First, a bunch of drunk, rowdy students tried to Make Dal Great Again by hosting Queen’s-style homecoming parties on the roofs, lawns and streets of a residential neighbourhood, leading to over 20 arrests. In the second story, a student activist named Masuma Khan is being hauled before the senate discipline committee for posting something mean on her personal Facebook page three months ago. Aside from the amount of news coverage they’re getting, these two incidents are also connected by the dramatic overreaction of university officials who are terrified of facing another string of public relations disasters like the one they faced in 2015.

click to enlarge Dalhousie University shouldn’t be running its own court system
Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. He is the co-host of Dog Island, Atlantic Canada’s premier cultural-Marxist podcast.
Even if you think drunken street parties build school spirit it’s hard not to think that the homecoming revellers partied too hard and were bad, inconsiderate neighbours. (And let’s face it: everything about the homecoming parties was incredibly stupid.) Likewise, even if you agree with the basic premise of Khan’s post on her personal Facebook page, you can also believe that she wrote about it in a way which was indelicate and rude.

However, it’s hard to imagine that the homecoming street parties caught on video were the most dangerous, violent or inconsiderate parties to have been hosted by Dal students this fall. And it is impossible to imagine that Khan’s not-particularly-unreasonable use of profanity to describe political opponents who she had been sparring with over a Dalhousie Student Union resolution about Canada was the most offensive or hurtful thing that a Dal student has posted on the internet between July and today. They were just the most public.

Despite the fact that both incidents happened off campus and despite the fact that there’s no suggestion that any of the students involved pose a danger to the safety of anyone who studies or works at the university, the administration is pursuing disciplinary action through the Code of Student Conduct against Khan and have said that they are considering it against the weekend partiers.

Homecoming street parties and Masuma Khan are connected by the dramatic overreaction of Dalhousie University officials

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The use of academic sanctions to police online speech or off-campus social behaviour is a massive overreach by Dalhousie’s administration. Short of the times when someone’s off-campus behaviour threatens the physical safety of employees or students of the university, the administration of our public post-secondary institutions should have no involvement in the lives of their students. Bizarrely, in 2014 the university refused to use the Code of Student Conduct against a student who assaulted his ex-girlfriend after breaking into her apartment because it happened off campus.

Khan’s targeting is particularly egregious. Even before this incident, she was subject to threats and harassment, something that has only become more intense after the university took action against her. Many others have written incisively about the role of race, religion and gender in the incident, but in addition to being a Muslim woman of colour whose parents immigrated to Canada, Khan is also vice president academic and external of the Dalhousie Student Union. The university has suggested that she should be held to a higher standard because she is an elected member of the students’ union’s executive.

The DSU is fully autonomous from the university, established under a separate piece of legislation and governed democratically by its own members. The DSU has robust censure and recall procedures that were pursued by Khan’s opponents and democratically defeated. For any university disciplinary procedures, her position on the executive ought to be irrelevant; Dalhousie’s invocation of responsibilities as a DSU representative suggest that their motivations have much more to do with who Khan is than what she did.

Our universities cannot, and should not, police the off-campus behaviour of all of its students. They certainly should not decide who to punish based on whether or not south end property owners are upset, the national media is interested or some wiener in grad school is irrationally offended. While much more is at stake in Khan’s case, Dal’s response to both incidents highlights the creeping power of an institution whose leadership now believe that it should police the personal and political lives of its students.


Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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