Rector's actions questioned

Rector Nick Day faces possible impeachment following a letter he wrote to Michael Ignatieff.
Rector Nick Day faces possible impeachment following a letter he wrote to Michael Ignatieff.
Photo: 

At last night’s AMS assembly, a motion was passed to hold a special campus wide vote to decide if Rector Nick Day should be impeached. The motion, done by secret ballot, resulted in a vote of 35 in favour and zero against with three abstentions.

This decision was made after over 2,200 students signed a petition to put a nomination question on the AMS Assembly agenda. To do this, only 715 signatures were required. The petition began on March 8 and was circulated widely by The Queen’s Campus Conservatives, Queen’s liberal Association and Queen’s Israel on Campus.

The nomination question read: “Shall it be recommended to the University Council of Queen’s University that Nick Day not continue to hold the office of Rector of Queen’s University at Kingston?”

This controversy arose as a result of a letter Nick Day, ArtSci ’09 and MA ’12, wrote to Michael Ignatieff on March 8 which he signed as rector. The letter denounced his and the Liberal Party’s stance on Israeli Apartheid Week. Day then posted this as a public note on his Facebook page and on the website Rabble.ca.

In his letter, Day said that Ignatieff’s statement demonstrated a lack of intellectual integrity and understanding and he accused Ignatieff of helping mobilize frenzy, stifle debate, and insulate Israel by making his public address. Day’s letter also called the situation in Palestine the “biggest human rights tragedy of my generation.’’

“Israeli Apartheid Week seeks to raise awareness about a system of separateness and dominance as well as its policies and violence. It is a critique of the policies and practices of a state, it is not a critique of Jewish people,” Day wrote.

“I was elected to represent the approximately 20,000 students of Queen’s University. If I ever used the influence of my office and the power of my public voice, as you have, to insulate from criticism the perpetrator of mass-slaughter, I would have a very difficult time sleeping at night.”

Day’s letter was written in response to Michael Ignatieff’s statement on March 7 that condemned Israeli Apartheid Week. In his statement Ignatieff equated the week with anti-Semitism and intolerance and said that the organizers and supporters of Israeli Apartheid Week tarnish freedom of speech.

“[It] is an attack on the mutual respect that holds our society together … I urge all Canadians to join with us in once again condemning Israeli Apartheid Week here in Canada and around the world,” Ignatieff said in his statement.

Israeli Apartheid Week was formed seven years ago, beginning in Toronto. The event’s official website said that the week’s aim is to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system. Conflicts between Israel and Palestine have been ongoing for centuries and according to the BBC, stem from a claim to land which lies between the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan river.

Principal Daniel Woolf met with Day yesterday afternoon to express his concerns about the letter. Later in the afternoon, Woolf released a letter online to the Queen’s community to state the University’s position on the matter.

“The views in the letter are not the issue—agree or disagree, he is entitled to them—it’s the context in which he communicated his personal opinion,” Woolf said in his statement. “The University’s position is that this was inappropriate … Mr. Day’s views do not and should not be seen as being representative of those of the University or Queen’s students.

“In our conversation, I asked Rector Day to consider the impact of his actions … I am hopeful he will do so immediately.”

Day said that he was unaware of the content of the Principal’s letter until presented with it later in the day, although he was aware that the Principal would be issuing a statement.

“I made a public statement based on principles and ideas that I think are extremely important, speaking as myself and not claiming to speak for every student. It’s the Principal’s right to clarify that the University doesn’t share my opinion,” Day said.

While Day said he regrets signing the letter off as ‘Rector,’ he said that he doesn’t regret writing or sending the letter to Ignatieff.

“I love that letter, I think that it’s an extremely important thing to be said… it’s angered a lot of people and that’s not contestable, but I think that that pales as an issue… in comparison to the necessity to have that public debate… I regret that it’s upset a lot of people,” Day said.

Day has been criticized publically in the past for voicing his political views in his position of power at the University., as had occured after his Remembrance Day Address in the fall term.

“In order to truly honour the sacrifices of those who fought for justice, we are now required to speak about new forms of injustice,” Day said in his Nov. 11 address. Day was censured by AMS Assembly following a debate about the appropriateness of his speech.

Day said that he is proud of delivering that Remembrance Day speech because he felt like he was advocating for something important. When he ran for rector in January 2010, one of his key platform promises was to create meaningful activism on current issues for students.

The role of rector is to support and mentor student representation, to voice student concerns, and promote educational excellence, according to the rector’s office website. Day said that to him the role means one of student representation and advocacy on the important issues that arise on campus or matter to students and to people within the community.

“It can involve taking action on campus politics and administrative policies and issues, such as the academic plan… it can also just as appropriately involve speaking up on issues on a more general side… it’s a role of advocacy,” Day said, adding that during his time as rector, he has been involved with groups such as the Queen’s Coalition of Racial and Ethnic Diversity (QCRED) and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG.) Day said that speaking out on issues in a public form is important to the advocacy he is involved in.

“I’ve explicitly made reference to making campus more aware of social justice issues. In that sense people’s frustration is understandable when they feel that their views aren’t being represented,” Day said.

Day chose not to attend AMS assembly last night when the motion was debated and passed. He sent out an email to Assembly to explain why he wasn’t attending.

“What happened at the Nov. 11 assembly was really unsafe for me,” Day said, adding that he had expected a lot of discussion to come out of his letter but feels that the backlash that has resulted wasn’t what he’d hoped for.

“These ideas that are critical of Israel should be voiced and should be publically voiced. They should always be welcome in public forums and they should be engaged with on the levels of content and on an ethical level,” Day said.

At the time of print, Day had not made a decision about whether or not he will issue a public apology or take further action.

“I have a need to publically talk about Israeli Apartheid Week. I think that the letter receiving any more attention about what the rector is doing is detracting about what we should be talking about,” Day said.

Because the rector isn’t an AMS officer, the AMS does not currently have a policy on a procedure to impeach him.

Students will vote on March 22 and 23 to decide whether or not they vote to impeach Nick Day as Rector. Calum Macbeth, commissioner of internal affairs and ArtSci ’11, said at Assembly that for the next ten days students should take it upon themselves to become educated with the issue.

If the results are in a vote for Day’s removal, the AMS will make a recommendation to the University Council that he be removed from his position as rector. The University Council is a body made up of the Board of Trustees, Senators and an equal number of elected graduates.

Mitchel Rattner, President of the Queen’s branch of Israel on Campus said that his group condemned Day’s statement from both an Israeli advocacy perspective, and a campus politics perspective.

“We’re involved with the petition not just because [Day] alleged things against Israel. Both Liberals and us have been targets of alienation and misrepresentation [by his letter,]” Rattner, ArtSci ’12, said.

Many students have agreed that if Day hadn’t signed his letter with his official university title of Rector, there would have been less cause for concern. Rattner disagreed.

“Our reaction would have been the same. It was a public letter. It’s irrelevant if he puts his title at the bottom of it,” Rattner said.

Elamin Abdelmahmoud, ArtSci ’11, said he didn’t feel that Day implied that he was speaking for all Queen’s students in his letter to Ignatieff. He said the decision to seek a vote was made too hastily.

"My usual way of going about things when a public official makes me upset is that I usually write to them and request or even demand an apology. It doesn't seem liked Nick was given an opportunity to reflect on the mistake he's been accused of making,” he said. “It seems a little bloodthirsty.”

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.