A few weeks ago AMS President Bijan Ahmadian was scolded by AMS Council for deliberately misrepresenting their lobbying directives on campus land use negotiations. Now, without Council approval, he has blocked a $700 donation for an aid flotilla to Gaza by the Social Justice Centre (SJC), one of the six AMS Resource Groups.
According to the AMS’ own regulations, the Resource Groups are fully autonomous and the AMS Council and Executive are explicitly barred from interfering in their activities. In addition, the Resource Groups are financially independent of the AMS, receiving $1.50 directly from each student as a result of a referendum passed in 1996.
This level of autonomy and financial independence was purposely designed in order to create a student space on campus committed to social justice issues free from AMS political interference. Without this independence, in 2007 the Resource Groups wouldn’t have been able to successively protest and amass enough signatures to convince the Board of Governors to overturn their previous decision to build private condos in the heart of campus. The AMS consequently wouldn’t have been able to come forward with a proposal to build a new Student Union Building.
There is nothing wrong with having a reasonable debate on the merits of using student money to help fund an aid flotilla to Gaza. Rather than promote productive discussion, however, the AMS President has instead opted for a different approach.
Last week, he and a group of students infiltrated an SJC meeting and attempted to override the authority of the organization executives. Their presence was specifically meant to intimidate those in attendance. A student who attended the meeting had posted on his Facebook afterwards: “To be honest, I was very shocked after today’s meeting in the SJC. It was a collection of Commies, Hippies, and an Islamist. Also, that raging lesbian was very disrespectful to myself and others.”
The president’s actions seem to suggest that his primary interest in this issue stems from his disdain for the Resource Groups, one of the last bastions of progressive politics in the AMS. If given the opportunity, I have no doubt he would try to shut them down.
Bijan should have approached this situation as an impartial mediator. Instead, he has helped ignite a public discourse on campus that is entrenched in rhetoric and accusations. Last year as president, I had to help mediate several minor conflicts that arose between Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and the Israel Awareness Club on campus. We were able to work out those differences, but it was only a result of considerate discussion and compromise.
It is too late for Bijan to take this kind of approach now. The AMS should remove him from this issue and appoint someone who will respect the autonomy of the Resource Groups and diffuse the situation.
Blake Frederick was AMS President in 2009–2010.