An introduction to U of T for the incoming campus radical
One of the shocks that new students will encounter is that U of T lecturers are not under any obligation to maintain the semblance of political neutrality upheld by many high school teachers. One professor condescendingly joked that Communism was dead outside of Cuba, North Korea, and the front steps of Sidney Smith Hall (politicians and activists from Latin America to Greece to Nepal, etc. might disagree with him, but I digress).
The right-liberal bias of several professors is revealed in their embrace of Francis Fukuyama. Fukuyama is a pop-political theoretician who argued back in the 90s that since the US had won the Cold War, no political system would ever challenge the ideal model of capitalist-democracy again. Being assigned Fukuyama’s naïve and outdated writing is particularly painful, especially when he compares Nicaragua’s Sandanista movement with (US-backed) military dictator Augusto Pinochet.
While the educational environment may prove disappointing, this is not to say that incoming radical students will not find a home on U of T campus. A trip to the U of T clubs fair will show that there are indeed many radical political organizations one can join. Anyone who joins a radical political organization, however, should keep in mind that their organization’s core (for the short term at least) will be small and that it will be subject to semi-regular sectarian challenges.
(Anyone not familiar with Trotskyists will soon find that they come in many shades, some willing to work on the fringe of the NDP, others dogmatic enough to contribute sections of their magazine to denouncing other local Communist organizations.)
Incoming radical students may be impressed with the concept of the University of Toronto Students Union (UTSU). Unlike high school student-government organizations, the UTSU takes political positions, many of which are equity/social-justice oriented and some of which (for example, opposition to illegal unpaid internships, involvement in the drop fees movement, etc.) are more directly confrontational. While the prospect of having a student union that stands for something may excite incoming radicals, even this institution must be viewed in the U of T context.
The UTSU regularly faces opposition from right-wing students who condemn it for adopting left-leaning causes and for being too hostile towards the University administration. To further complicate matters, the UTSU is also held in low esteem by some on the left, who point out its relative moderation compared to other student unions (such as Quebec’s ASSÉ).
U of T is a big campus, and every incoming student is bound to find a group that matches their profile if they look long enough. Unfortunately, whatever allusions one holds about university culture, U of T is in reality a large, bureaucratic institution committed to establishment ideology. That does not mean it cannot be the home of good, progressive struggles, but incoming idealists should not arrive at U of T with the illusion that all inquisitive young people and their professors are budding radicals.
comments powered by Disqus