Social Justice Centre Closure Not Isolated to University of Windsor…
She’s not giving up. Dedicated to upholding her responsibilities to the discipline that drew her to the university, Frances Cachon, PhD candidate, only days away from graduating, is scrambling to keep the social justice centre open at the University of Windsor.
Only coming to know of the closure recently, Cochan organized quickly. She says she garnered over 1,200 signatures from a circulating online petition, which is fighting to keep the Centre for Studies in Social Justice- due to close permanently as of July-open, despite administrative decisions.
Cochan says she does not believe the closure of the social justice centre which opened in 2002, is isolated to her university and her goal is to hold a public collective conversation about the role of social justice at post secondary institutions.
“For me it’s not just a question about our centre and our university, this is a question about a role of critical thinking at post secondary institutions across the country…I look around me and we are in need of more social justice, not less,” explains Cochan.
Refusing to have “us and them conversations”, Cochan hopes to draw administration into this discussion as well.
According to Cachon, every event that she has ever attended at the centre has been “transformative” for her, as such events allow researchers and activists to bridge a gap and engage, citing that the reason what drew her to attend the university for her PhD was because of its social justice study and work.
Director to centre for the past ten years, tenured professor, Dr. Tanya Basok blames neo- liberal policies for the closure.
The university, explains Basok, tried fundraising for the centre initially by approaching foundations but those efforts were abandoned and ultimately the university, according to Basok, said, “We don’t want to continuing supporting the centre”, waiting until Basok’s term as director expired to bring down the decision to close.
She says she was not surprised when after a meeting with the Vice President of Research in February, she got a notice within days stating that the centre is due for closure, “it is not unusual given the corporate culture of the university, and the emphasis on ventures that bring in money to the university.”
However Basok asks, “Why should the budget committee decide what is valuable for the university?”
Core funding for social justice initiatives that ran through the centre will also no longer be offered for community outreach and research.
Instead, internal grants for singular projects will now be offered, by an application process.
This process, Basok explains is part of a neo-liberal culture, which will pit social justice initiatives against one and other, measure their worthiness and force researchers to justify funding.
Due to the closure, the undergraduate social justice combined degree of 50 students is also under threat, Basak says, as the program is closely linked to the centre.
“Without the centre the(undergraduate) program has now moved to the Dean’s office,” Basok says.
According to news outlet, Windsor Star, the university is citing budget reasons for the closure.
However, Brendan Clements, UWO masters degree student who served in the USC Grants Committee at Western in 2010-2011, echoes Basok and believes it is profit that motivates such decisions, “A lot of Ontario universities are undergoing ‘structural adjustments’- basically doing internal reviews…in order to maximize and ensure future profitability.”
The closure will not only effect students, but also grassroots movements such as Occupy, an internationally recognized, peer reviewed journal “Studies in Social Justice,” and numerous other activities such as high school social justice forums which were held through the centre.