By Rachelle Younglai
About 25 Ryerson social work students will close their textbooks and face the tear gas after the program approved motion allowing its students to defer exams so they can protest at the Free Trade Area of the Americas conference in Quebec City later this month.
Ryerson students will join Concordia University, Queen’s University and the University of New Brunswick that have already granted academic amnesty for all students wishing to attend.
Last week, the social work school council asked faculty members to allow students to defer exams that fall between April 20 and 22, when demonstrations against the Quebec Summit are planned.
Students are still responsible for completing their tests within the exam period, which runs from April 16 to 28.
“It’s the duty of social workers to go out and challenge institutions,” says Krystal Anna Kraus, a third-year social work student who put forth the motion.
Since the decision, there has been talk of early childhood education and radio and television arts students approaching their respective faculties with similar appeals.
The university department responsible for planning exams and dealing with conflicts says allowing exams to be deferred for political reasons is unprecedented.
“In the past, exam deferrals are only made for medical, compassionate and religious reasons,” said Ryerson’s associate registrar, Dawn Little.
The director of the school of social work, Susan Silver, says the school’s mission statement focuses on social justice and anti-oppression. “The perceived threats of globalization conflicts with our goals of social justice,” says Silver. “When [the] mission statement is strong and students want to follow this, we try to accommodate them.”
Supporters of the decision say the protest is education because it gives students a chance to voice public opinion. But critics say it’s not the institution’s place to make accommodations.
“No one is denying [a student’s] right to choose but there are consequences,” says Bernard Shapiro, a principal of McGill University.
McGill’s senate narrowly voted down a motion to defer exams. Shapiro says they may have had problems if they had supported it because the university can’t say ‘yes’ to the anti-FTAA protest and ‘not’ to other demonstrators.