ConU Inc. Author Speaks With The Link

According to Concordia’s administration, David Bernans is a risk to be assessed.

Making headlines after the university’s Risk Assessment Committee banned him from holding a book reading on campus in 2006, the author of Con U Inc. and North of 9/11 will speak on Wednesday as part of a week-long “Ask Why” awareness campaign organized by various student groups.

Bernans caught up with The Link to talk about the university’s senior administration, the changing role of the Concordia Student Union and how students can—and should—mobilize to reclaim space.

When asked what students should demand of the administration in a time where the tuition freeze has thawed and corporate interests trump ethical purchasing in private/public contracts, Bernans said it all comes down to access.

“Why aren’t [students] given public space to promote and hold events, to organize, to question established truths, to be critical of the relationships between ConU and the corporate powers that be and to encourage independent, critical thought?” he asked in an interview on Nov. 14. “Moreover, why is our administration and Board of Governors dominated by corporate interests with secret exclusivity agreements in a supposedly-public institution?”

Closely following the events surrounding the recently renewed PepsiCo. contract, Bernans said he wasn’t surprised that the administration went ahead with the deal in spite of promises of student consultation.

“It’s to be expected in the current context,” he said. “[The administration] is a structure that has been set up to run—even thought it’s a public institution—like a private corporation.”

With competing visions for Concordia’s future, Bernans explained that, “at some points historically students have made gains, and at others, the corporations and administration get what they want. Now it’s clear students want to swing the pendulum the other way.”

Bernans also said student powerlessness and apathy is part of a problem with the way the student union has evolved over the years, in terms of prompting “general assembly and direct democracy” as a way to make decisions and mobilize the student body.

Back in his day, Bernans said, the CSU would challenge the administration—and would actually win sometimes.

In 1999, before Tim Hortons was a fixture in the Hall Building, altercations between security and the CSU over tabling space exemplified “the leadership students should be looking to put in place today.”

As student groups were distributing information about a general assembly—that eventually led to a three-day student strike—security attempted to evict them from the premises on the ground floor of the Hall Building.

“We just called the student executives down, who sat with us,” recounted Bernans. “The CSU told the security at the time to arrest us if they needed us to move. And then they basically told the administration, ‘you have two choices: let us do the mobilizing ourselves, or do it for us—if you arrest us for tabling, students will mobilize around that. The choice is yours.’”
Being a student leader is not just about representing students on a board somewhere, he continued.

“That’s not an effective way of dealing with bureaucracy or making any kind of significant gains,” he explained. “You need to elect student leaders who will actually encourage activism, who get students organized and behind them when they say to the administration ‘these are student interests, you can follow through or face the consequences.’ With this approach, the university will listen. They have to.”

When asked if there was anything students should know about university space before speaking on Wednesday—security risk assessment pending—Bernans was very direct.

“My advice is to take it. Take the space. I mean that quite literally,” he said. “That’s how student space was won in the past. The reason students don’t have [space] anymore is because they didn’t fight to keep it. Fight for it.

“Hopefully, the CSU will follow and realize their role is not to represent students to the administration but to mobilize and to reinvigorate the institution of direct democracy.”

Catch David Bernans on the 7th floor of the Hall Building this Wednesday, Nov. 17 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. To read the entire interview
Click here for the full Q&A

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 14, published November 16, 2010.