Friday, March 26, 2010

Profs protest university scholarship program promoting Canadian military

Congratulations to the 16 professors at the University of Regina who have sent a letter to the university’s president Vianne Timmons saying it should withdraw from the program known as “Project Hero”. The program, an initiative of Rick Hillier, a retired general, offers free tuition to the children of dead Canadian soldiers. Hillier, as Chief of the Defense Staff, was notorious for his war-mongering propaganda about killing Afghan resistance “scumbags”. In addition to the thousands of Afghans killed by Canadian forces, close to 140 Canadian soldiers have died in that country, and thousands more have been permanently disabled physically or mentally.

According to the Globe & Mail, “Several universities have signed onto the program, including Memorial University in Newfoundland and the universities of Ottawa, Windsor and Calgary. The University of Regina announced earlier this month that it would provide the scholarship starting in September.”

The professors’ letter says Project Hero is “a glorification of Canadian imperialism in Afghanistan and elsewhere.” Instead of “privileging the children of deceased Canadian soldiers,” it says, “we suggest that our administration demand all levels of government provide funding sufficient for universal qualified access to post-secondary education.”

The professors’ action has been met, predictably, by a storm of criticism in the corporate media and denunciation by the Royal Canadian Legion, which purports to speak for military veterans.

The Globe quotes political science prof Joyce Green, who signed the letter: The program “conflates heroism with the death of individuals who are in the military service and we think that the death of individuals is always a tragic matter, but we think that heroism is something different,” Ms. Green said.

“When you attach heroism to the deaths of the military, it makes it very difficult, maybe impossible for us to talk about what’s going on, what the nature of our military engagement is. In other words, it shrinks the space for democratic discussion and criticism of military policy in Canada and in the university.”

Few media outlets have actually published the text of the letter. Here it is:

Dear President Timmons:

We write to you as concerned faculty members of the University of Regina, to urge you to withdraw our university immediately from participation in the “Project Hero” scholarship program. This program, which waives tuition and course fees, and provides $1,000 per year to “dependents of Canadian Forces personnel deceased while serving with an active mission”, is a glorification of Canadian imperialism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. We do not want our university associated with the political impulse to unquestioning glorification of military action.

“Project Hero” is the brainchild of Kevin Reed, a 42-year-old honorary lieutenant-colonel of an army reserve unit in southwestern Ontario, who has said publicly he was inspired by the work of retired Canadian General Rick Hillier. General Hillier, one of the most controversial figures in the recent military history of this country, was the first to introduce “Project Hero” at a Canadian post-secondary institution, just after he took up the post as Chancellor of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Since then, a number of other public Canadian universities have come on board.

In our view, support for “Project Hero” represents a dangerous cultural turn. It associates “heroism” with the act of military intervention. It erases the space for critical discussion of military policy and practices. In signing on to “Project Hero”, the university is implicated in the disturbing construction of the war in Afghanistan by Western military- and state-elites as the “good war” of our epoch. We insist that our university not be connected with the increasing militarization of Canadian society and politics.

The majority of young adults in Canada find it increasingly difficult to pay for their education. If they do make it to university, they rack up massive student debts which burden them for years. Instead of privileging the children of deceased Canadian soldiers, we suggest that our administration demand all levels of government provide funding sufficient for universal qualified access to post-secondary education.

The University of Regina has always been closely tied to our Saskatchewan community, and the strategic plan, mâmawohkamâtowin, means "co-operation; working together towards common goals". We do not think that “Project Hero” is a common goal chosen by those of us who work in the University; it is not drawn from the values of this institution. We think it is incompatible with our understanding of the role of public education, or with decisions made by a process of collegial governance.

In addition to withdrawing from “Project Hero”, we think the issues we raise should be publicly debated. We are calling on the U of R administration to hold a public forum on the war in Afghanistan, and Canadian imperialism more generally, at which the issues we raise can be debated. This forum should be open to all; it should take place this semester, before exams, as “Project Hero” is set to start at U of R in September 2010.

To summarize, we are calling for:

(1) The immediate withdrawal of our university from “Project Hero”.

(2) An institutional deployment of public pressure on both orders of government to provide immediate funding sufficient for universal access to post-secondary education.

(3) A public forum on the war in Afghanistan and Canadian imperialism more generally to be held this semester before exams begin.


Joyce Green, Department of Political Science

J.F. Conway, Department of Sociology and Social Studies

George Buri, Department of History

Emily Eaton, Department of Geography

Jeffery R. Webber, Department of Political Science

David Webster, International Studies

Annette Desmarais, International Studies

Darlene Juschka, Women’s and Gender Studies and Religious Studies

Meredith Rogers Cherland, Faculty of Education

Garson Hunter, Social Work

John W. Warnock, Department of Sociology and Social Studies

William Arnal, Department of Religious Studies

Leesa Streifler, Department of Visual Arts

Carol Schick, Faculty of Education

Ken Montgomery, Faculty of Education

André Magnan, Department of Sociology and Social Studies"

UPDATE: Since I posted this report, I have received the following note:

The 15 signatories are under serious attack by the far right calling on the administration for their jobs (four of are non-tenured). Saskatchewan's federal member of parliament is demanding that they publicly apologize, and the premier of the province, Brad Wall, has denounced them.

The signatories of the letter are asking that you distribute this letter and call for solidarity far and wide so as to generate letters and campaigns of support for resistance to expressions of Canadian imperialism on campus and the 15's right to freedom of expression.

To express solidarity please send letters of support for the Regina 15, and against Project Hero and Canadian imperialism, to University of Regina President Vianne Timmons, and Vice-President Academic, Gary Boire,

Please send a copy of the letters to

Thank you, and solidarity,

Supporter of the Regina 15

Examples of news coverage, criticism, and threats of attacks against the Regina 15:

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