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Encampment update: Sharing commitments with students – May 29, 2024

Today we met again with student representatives of the encampment along with their faculty advisor.

We shared a set of commitments appropriate to our mission as an institution of higher learning, which are included in a full response we’ve now shared publicly.

Our response comes after weeks of careful consideration and both formal and informal discussions with our students.

These commitments are contingent upon organizers agreeing to dismantle the encampment and not return, and to not disrupt Western’s convocation ceremonies out of respect for their fellow students.

The safety concerns connected to the encampment are real and immediate. We must bring it to a peaceful conclusion.

Sincerely,

John Doerksen, Vice-Provost (Students)

Opiyo Oloya, Associate Vice-President (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion)

Dear Western Community,

Campuses across North America have experienced heightened tensions for many months as the war in Israel and Palestine rages on. Western community members with ties to both Israel and Palestine are understandably in deep pain.

One of the ways some community members – and others who have no ties to Western –have chosen to express their concerns is to ask Western to take a number of actions related to investments and academic partnerships. Universities across the country and around the world are experiencing similar calls.

These groups, including those involved in the encampment on our campus, are calling for the university to disclose and cut all financial and academic ties to Israel; engage in community consultation on our investment policy; and provide amnesty to all those involved in the current encampment.

Today we shared a comprehensive response with student representatives of the encampment.

I’ll provide some overarching thoughts to set the context for Western’s response.

Western will always uphold the rights of our community to express their views in a respectful way and within the bounds of the law – and we regularly work with organizers to ensure this kind of activity can happen. Creating space for a range of dialogue and debate is at the heart of our mission.

We are also here to support our university community – with an openness to ongoing communication, a range of mental health and other resources, and the best tools a university can offer: a robust set of academic forums where people can exchange ideas and create new knowledge to inform action.

These are the roles universities can play.

There are also roles we do not – and should not – play.

For instance, with few exceptions throughout history, universities do not take unilateral stances on political or social issues. Why? Because by our very nature, universities do not speak with one voice. To do so would be antithetical to our mission as a place where all are welcome and where diverse ideas can be openly and respectfully debated and explored.

With this mission in mind, universities have historically not taken up wholesale calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions – and Western University is no different.

A word about our investments in general. We have a fiduciary duty to safeguard and grow our investment portfolios to support Western’s mission and the people within our university community. Our investments create critical resources that allow us to create new teaching and research resources and bolster scholarships and other supports for our students.

Within this context, I’ll respond to the calls and then outline Western’s commitments.

1. Financial and academic ties with Israel

In considering the most direct call – to disclose and divest from companies directly involved in the occupation of Palestine – it's important to begin by confirming that for many years Western’s investments have been publicly available on our Finance website and, as we make clear there, the university does not invest directly in particular companies.

We do not buy or sell individual stocks or make significant direct investments in particular companies. Western’s investments – like those of most universities – are held almost exclusively in pooled funds, which may be curated daily (and some more than once a day) by external fund managers.

Assuming divestment was possible, many experts have argued that this approach would have limited to no impact on the issues at hand – while at the same time requiring organizations like universities to dismantle their entire investment model to address a very small percentage of assets.

But the larger point is that, as an institution of higher learning, our role is to make room for the broadest range of views.

With that in mind, our investment policy is driven not by political motives or any institutional position on particular global affairs, but by a fiduciary duty to ensure the University is financially equipped to carry out its mission in support of all students, faculty and staff – today and well into the future.

At the same time, Western’s longstanding commitment to responsible investing grows stronger each year and in 2023 we became a signatory to the United Nations-sponsored Principles for Responsible Investment, joining a global initiative to advance responsible investment practices.

Before moving on, I do want to say that divestment is nowhere near the best way Western can impact the current situation in Palestine and Israel. As with any important issue the world is facing, our most valuable contribution as a university is to support excellence in teaching, learning and research, and to create an environment where dialogue, debate and discovery can thrive.

That brings me to a final and important point here: Western establishes and maintains academic partnerships around the globe because it furthers knowledge and makes the world a better place. We will not stop doing this. And we will not hold academic colleagues accountable for the decisions of their government. 

What we can do, however, is review our institutional agreements as they relate to international academic partnerships to confirm those collaborations are consistent with Western’s principles.

2. Community consultation on Western’s investment policy

Investment strategies for any large, complex organization take years to build, and evaluating their success is also a multi-year proposition.

When Western’s Investment Committee introduced the Responsible Investment Strategy and Pathway in 2022, with approval from the Board of Governors, it committed to executing the new asset mix strategy for three to five years – an appropriate time frame to allow for fulsome execution followed by close and careful evaluation.

In other words, the current approved investment strategy is mid-stream. Opening it up now would most certainly put our entire investment strategy – and by extension our portfolios’ performance – at risk.

That performance directly impacts Western’s ability to fulfil our core mission, by funding activities including student scholarships, faculty chairs, professorships and fellowships, and transformational strategic initiatives such as new capital projects. Those are priorities we cannot compromise.

That said, given our longstanding principle of collegial governance we can certainly create a pathway for input and feedback on Western’s investments, and this is reflected in our commitments below.

3. Amnesty for students and encampment participants

Our goal is to end this unlawful encampment safely and soon. We are seeking a peaceful resolution, and we hope to continue engaging with our students to do so.

Students should not fear repercussions simply by speaking with us and negotiating on behalf of their peers.

That said, any individual who chooses not to respect the bounds of peaceful and lawful protest cannot be guaranteed amnesty.

*****

With this response in mind, Western will commit to the following:

  1. Set a meeting between 3-4 student coalition representatives and member(s) of Western’s senior leadership team and Western's Investment Team to discuss the University’s investment policy and demonstrate continued commitment to transparency.  The meeting will take place before the start of the next academic year.
  2. Continue our ongoing investment reporting and commitment to transparency. Western has been disclosing investment information since 2022.
  3. Implement a process for expression of concerns from Western community members around responsible investing. Concerns will be shared with members of the Western investment team who will review and assess based on applicable Board policies. Target date is November, 2024.
  4. Develop an educational speaker series on a regional and political perspectives of Israel and Palestine for the 2024-2025 academic year. The purpose is to raise awareness on campus and to provide a forum for further dialogue in our community.  
  5. Create a Provost’s Committee to develop and recommend a framework for Western’s international partnerships grounded in human rights considerations and our values.  The Committee will review formal language in agreements that establish new university partnerships and those coming up for review.  It will start its work in September, 2024 and conclude in April, 2025.
  6. Increase our Global Students and Scholars at Risk Program financial support by up to $200,000 per year for students displaced by war, including Palestinian students, to continue their educational pursuits.
  7. Utilize central communications channels to feature stories of students impacted by war, beginning with students impacted by the war in Palestine and Israel. The purpose is to educate our community on the lived experience of our students.

These commitments – to the extent that they are new and not already in place – are contingent upon organizers agreeing to dismantle the encampment and not return, and to not disrupt Western’s convocation ceremonies out of respect for their fellow students.

The protracted occupation of the popular gathering place outside the University Community Centre is not only unsafe and unlawful but is making it impossible for Western to fulfil our promise of creating inclusive spaces across our campus for all our community members.

What’s more, individuals participating in the encampment have several times crossed the line. They are intimidating visitors including high-school students on campus tours. They are harassing our campus community members, including students and caretaking staff. They are committing acts of vandalism. And some have even engaged in assaultive behaviour towards our staff.

This is unacceptable and cannot go on.

*****

This is not the end of the conversation. Western has a long history of partnership with our students and student leaders and with each new academic year we work hard to build and maintain those relationships.

We remain open to more communication and collaboration with the student groups. We are ready to hear their ideas about how, through our mission as an institution of higher learning, we can address the situation in Israel and Palestine. 

This is a terribly troubling time. We hope to work together as a community on setting some shared goals that align with Western’s academic mission and strategic plan. 

Sincerely,

Alan Shepard
President & Vice-Chancellor

Today we met with student representatives of the encampment to continue a dialogue and work towards a peaceful resolution.

The conversation was productive, and we aim to meet again this week to agree upon several proposed activities that align with Western’s mission as a university.

During our meeting, we reinforced Western’s support of peaceful protest, and we outlined the ways in which the current encampment is not within those boundaries.

In addition to the illegal activity noted in our May 22 update, safety concerns continue to mount, including an incident this past weekend which saw some protestors scale several storeys of a building to post a flag, putting themselves and others beneath them at serious risk of injury.

There were also recent incidents of protestors targeting student-led campus tour groups, following them at close proximity and chanting at them. Both high school students and student tour guides reported feeling frightened and shaken by this aggressive behaviour.

Finally, we continue to hear from members of our community who say this is no longer the welcoming place they’ve known, and they don’t feel safe coming to campus.

We must ensure that Western’s campus is a place where all members of our community feel safe, welcome, and included – and this unlawful encampment has created the opposite effect.

The actions of participants are serving to deprive our community – and now future students – the opportunities that have been afforded to our students for decades.

We are confident that student representatives of the encampment see the value of an inclusive campus, one that is respectful of all its diverse members, and that they appreciate the benefits they themselves have reaped from this core principle.

We will do everything we can to keep the lines of communication open and bring this encampment to an end.

Sincerely,

John Doerksen, Vice-Provost (Students)

Opiyo Oloya, Associate Vice-President (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion)

As it enters its third week, the encampment at Western is increasingly concerning. Incidents of unsafe and illegal behaviour are mounting, and the university’s core principles are being compromised.

Participants continue to engage in activities that go beyond our expectations for peaceful protest.

There have been several incidents of theft, vandalism and assaultive behaviour as well as allegations of hate speech originating from someone with ties to the encampment. These activities are all being actively investigated.

We cannot stand for any activity that puts our campus community at risk, nor will we tolerate hate of any kind.

Western will always support the rights of our community to protest peacefully. But, as we said last Friday, what’s happening on our campus is no longer in that category.

Beyond being unlawful, the encampment has created an environment of exclusion – one where some members of our community feel unwelcome and unsafe. This flies in the face of our principles of equity, diversity and inclusion and impedes our ability to support and celebrate Western’s diverse community.

Western has engaged the London Police Liaison Team to communicate with encampment organizers with the goal of ending the encampment peacefully. It is unlawful and unsafe, and now is the time for it to end.

We implore our students to work with us to achieve this goal. We hope to engage them in further discussions about the best ways Western can address the current crisis in Israel and Gaza through means appropriate to our mission.

To that end, we have another meeting scheduled with students tomorrow to keep the dialogue going and find a way forward.  

Sincerely,

John Doerksen, Vice-Provost (Students)

Jane O’Brien, Associate Vice-President (Human Resources)

Dear Western community members,

As we head into the long weekend and 10th day of the encampment, the safety and care of the Western campus community remains our primary focus.

In recent days we have seen further safety issues emerge, stemming from behaviour during rallies and marches as well as risky items and activity within the encampment itself.

Earlier this week, we met with student representatives of the encampment to hear from them directly. We also expressed Western’s safety concerns surrounding the current situation.

We hope to keep that dialogue going so we can find a way forward. Today we have invited students to meet again with leaders next week.

In the meantime, we encourage our students to return to peaceful and lawful protesting. This is the kind of activity Western will always support, in the spirit of furthering respectful dialogue and debate.

But what is happening on our campus right now has pushed those boundaries and we must find a peaceful end to this unlawful situation.

Our campus special constables remain on site to monitor the situation and continue working closely with London Police Service to ensure our campus remains a safe place for all Western community members.

We recognize this continues to be a challenging time for many within here at Western and well beyond. Support is available to our entire community through a range of resources for students, faculty and staff.

Sincerely,
John Doerksen
Vice-Provost (Students)

Jane O’Brien
Associate Vice-President (Human Resources)

Dear Western community,

Today members of Western’s leadership team held a meeting with student representatives of the current encampment on our campus.

We listened to their concerns, and they articulated the outcome they are seeking, which they have shared publicly.

We also expressed Western’s concerns about the unlawful encampment.

We hope to engage in further conversation with the students in the near future. We encourage them to return to peaceful protesting and to remove the encampment.

In the meantime, our campus special constables will continue working closely with London Police Service as we manage the mounting safety issues emerging from the current situation.

Sincerely,
John Doerksen
Vice-Provost (Students)

Dear Western community,

As we head into the sixth day of the encampment on Western’s campus, we have increasing concerns about the safety within and surrounding the space participants are utilizing unlawfully.

The encampment is growing, and it appears that the majority of participants are not our students. We managed several safety risks over the weekend and those on site demonstrated decreased willingness to work with us and communicate productively.

Some participants have become more confrontational, making respectful dialogue difficult.

Western remains committed to free speech, and we have reaffirmed our expectations for a peaceful protest. On Saturday, we distributed information directly to encampment participants to ensure all parties involved are aware of what is not permitted on campus.

Our special constables continue to be on site to monitor the situation, and they are working closely with London Police Service to ensure the Western community remains safe.

In the meantime, we have invited student leaders from the original protest to meet with senior administration so that we can hear from them directly.

Those with safety concerns should contact Western Special Constable Services at 519.661.3300. Resources are also available for all members of our community through Wellness & Well-being.

Sincerely,
John Doerksen
Vice-Provost (Students)

As the encampment on Western’s campus continues, the safety and security of our community is our utmost concern. Western has an obligation to provide a safe environment in which our students, faculty and staff can pursue all aspects of our academic mission.

Our commitment to free speech remains firm, as do our expectations that community members exercise this right safely, peacefully, lawfully and in compliance with Western’s policies.

This encampment is not meeting these expectations.

Our campus and buildings are private property. Unauthorized activities, equipment or events, including encampments, are not permitted and are considered trespassing.

When using Western's campus for peaceful and lawful protest, the following expectations apply:

  • Hate speech, threats, acts of intimidation, and discriminatory language or behaviour will not be tolerated.
  • Posters, banners, stickers or signs cannot be affixed to University property.
  • Temporary or permanent structures of any kind, including tents or barricades, are not permitted.
  • No fires, flames, heaters, or appliances with open flames are permitted.
  • No propane or other fuel sources (including firelogs and wooden pallets) are permitted.
  • Western’s campus is smoke- and vape-free.
  • Regular university activities must be able to proceed without interruption or impediment.
  • No illegal drug use or public alcohol consumption is permitted.
  • Protesting will not be permitted after 9:00 p.m.
  • No excessive noise, megaphones or amplifiers within 50 metres of University residences. All noise must also follow the City of London’s sound by-laws.
  • Unauthorized access to campus buildings and the propping open of campus building doors is not permitted.
  • Blocking traffic routes, including right-of-way for emergency vehicles, is prohibited.
  • Blocking access to buildings and grounds is prohibited.
  • Disrupting safe entry and exit from buildings and other University grounds, facilities and areas is prohibited.
  • Sleeping and/or camping overnight is only permitted in residence buildings and apartments.
  • Damage or destruction of University property is prohibited - including graffiti.
  • Preventing special constables, police, fire, or other health and safety officials from the performance of their responsibilities is prohibited.
  • If you are asked to identify yourself, including showing your Western ID, your cooperation is required.

Anyone participating in a protest must comply with the laws of Ontario and Canada, including but not limited to the Ontario Trespass to Property Act, Ontario Fire Code, Ontario Occupational Health & Safety Act, and Criminal Code of Canada.

Various University policies and agreements also apply to this activity, including but not limited to the Code of Student Conduct, the Manual of Administrative Policies and Procedures ( MAPP), and/or collective agreements.

We expect protest activity to continue within the bounds of the law and University policies. Any behaviour outside of these parameters will be referred to the Western Special Constable Service and may be reported to the London Police Service.

Dear Western community members,

Yesterday’s peaceful protest did not end at midnight as planned.

Some individuals have camped overnight, and the presence of non-community members has increased. It’s disappointing to see this shift, as our communication with student organizers has been positive and collegial.

The safety and security of our campus community is our top priority and will be our focus today as we ensure regular university activities can proceed without interruption.

We will continue efforts to communicate with the Western student leaders at the encampment, and to set clear expectations for all individuals involved.

At the same time, we are working closely with London Police Service to seek advice and support as needed.

We recognize this evolving situation may be challenging for various members of our community. A reminder that resources are available.

We will continue to share updates.

Sincerely,
John Doerksen
Vice-Provost (Students)

Peaceful protest on campus – May 8, 2024

Earlier today, a group of protestors returned to campus and gathered outside the University Community Centre. They have signaled an intention to hold their event until midnight tonight.

We are committed to maintaining open lines of communication with organizers, and our special constables are monitoring the situation to ensure today’s activities take place safely, peacefully and lawfully.

During our discussions, we reiterated the kinds of activities that are not permitted on campus, such as erecting tents.

While the fundamental principles of free speech are as important as ever, we expect protest activity to continue respectfully and within the bounds of the law.

Western is a diverse community, and we know protest activity can raise concerns from groups with differing views. We are here to support through a range of resources.

Sincerely,
John Doerksen
Vice-Provost (Students)

Peaceful protest on campus – May 1, 2024

Today a group of protestors came to Western’s campus and began setting up tents outside the University Community Centre.

We have begun a dialogue with organizers. We have affirmed their right to protest and indicated that we are here to work with them to ensure their activity remains peaceful and lawful.

We have also outlined the activities that are not permitted on campus, including erecting tents.

The group’s activity is proceeding peacefully.

Our campus special constables are on site to closely monitor the situation and ensure the Western community remains safe. We are also consulting London Police Service, as we would for any unsanctioned gathering.

While dialogue and debate are welcome and encouraged – even on the most difficult topics – Western will not tolerate hate speech.

As always, we are also here to support our community with a range of resources that may help during this time.

Sincerely,
John Doerksen
Vice-Provost (Students)