The Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) is calling for the resignation of the Deputy Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick from the Board of Governors (BoG) following comments he made in an email.
Wernick referred to the March 30 “Tuition Fees are Too Damn High” rally, in which students picketed and led to the cancellation of the BoG meeting, as “the tactics of Brownshirts and Maoists.”
“Brownshirts” is a reference to the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party. “Maoists” is a reference to Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries inspired by Chinese communist Mao Zedong.
The protest was in response to a task force report concluding there were no feasible alternatives to raising tuition fees.
GSA vice-president (academic) Michael Bueckert said he was initially shocked by the comments.
“It’s just so inflammatory and outrageous and over the top, given that the protest was really peaceful and I thought it was quite polite,” he said.
“Certainly there were no tactics involved that would bring to light comparisons to Nazis,” he said.
Wernick said he stands by what he said in the email, which was a response to questions of due process regarding the adjourned meeting.
“I have said everything I need to say in the email, which has been posted,” he said. “My position’s quite clear.”
Wernick said he is not against student protests, but added there were numerous opportunities for students and the university community to raise issues with the BoG regarding the task force report.
“In my view, there is nothing wrong with the peaceful protests that were going on outside the building,” he said. “My issue is with the deliberate disruption of a board meeting, to make it impossible for the board to actually function. That’s not protest, that’s disruption.”
Root Gorelick, who is also a member on the BoG, said the protest was “a remarkably peaceful protest, a beautiful example of free speech and peaceful civil disobedience,” on his personal blog.
“At the end of the day, the students protested in a proper exercise of free speech,” he said in an interview.
He is one of six co-signers of the original email that provoked Wernick’s response, asking about due process following the meeting as it did not appear to have been officially adjourned.
Gorelick said Wernick’s comments were “absolutely, completely wrong,” but added Wernick has the right to state his opinions.
Gorelick added he wanted to know what other board members think.
In regards to the petition calling for Wernick’s resignation from the BoG, Gorelick said Wernick’s comments are “not severe enough to be actionable” and have not damaged Carleton’s reputation.
Bueckert, however, said he thinks Wernick should resign.
“For someone like that to think there’s no role for peaceful protest in democratic society is really worrying and maybe suggests an autocratic, heavy-handed approach to governing,” he said.
Wernick said he will ignore the petition calling for his resignation.
“I think fair-minded people in the university would have to ask themselves how they would feel if other groups made it impossible for board meetings to take place,” he said. “Is the board at the whim of any group that decides to block its business because of their preferences about particular issues? Or does the board have the right to meet and discuss?”