With the university campuses of Ontario and Quebec currently facing major protests, there’s an opportunity to revisit some of the key themes and themes that defined the campuses of our universities in the 1960s and 1970s.
The focus on the “public good” and the need for the “greater unity of the human race” are some of these key themes that were often associated with the campus of the University of Toronto (the Toronto Institute of Technology), the University at Buffalo (the Buffalo Niagara University), and the University College, Cambridge (the Cambridge University).
While many universities today have evolved from their previous incarnations, the themes and concepts of these old-fashioned, white-dominated institutions are not exactly unique.
While it may not be an entirely new thing, it is an important point to make in understanding the impact of the “free university” and its social contract on the future of our nation.
“In a sense, it’s a continuation of the idea of free and equal opportunity in our society,” says John Egan, a historian of Canadian universities and the director of the Centre for Canadian History at the University’s Department of History.
“It’s a sort of legacy, in that it has not disappeared.”
While some of this history may not have been discussed during the 1960’s, it was certainly not lost on students and the broader student body as students marched and gathered in protest on May 1, 1960.
In a piece published in the Toronto Star, columnist Henry Gilder describes what happened on that day.
“The protests had been peaceful,” he writes.
“But, suddenly, a young man of twenty-two, who had not been a student, was arrested, and a young woman, who was a teacher at the university, was charged.”
The young man, who is referred to as “Johnny,” was charged with being a member of the Communist Party, and given a jail term of seven days.
The young woman was charged for being a Communist sympathizer, but given a two-week jail term.
The student’s mother, who took a taxi from her home in Mississauga to Toronto to pick up her son, also drove her son to the university to pick him up.
“There was a crowd of hundreds of people, including my son,” she says.
“They were all standing, holding signs that said, ‘Johnny is a Communist.’
There were a lot of people in that crowd, and they were shouting.
I don’t know why they were chanting, but there were a few of them.”
The protests were peaceful, but the young man was arrested.
This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on May 5, 2018.