Protesting professors launch course on civil disobedience


Two SFU professors are bringing their experiences from the front lines of the Kinder Morgan pipeline protests to the frontiers of the classroom in this spring’s President’s Dream Colloquium, titled “Obedience and Disobedience: Taking Action on Climate Change.”

The colloquium invites leading thinkers to give a series of talks on what the organizers describe as “two intersecting crises”: the ongoing issue of anthropogenic climate change, and the “failure of democracies [. . .] to adequately preserve common goods, especially those that are global.”

The speakers include John Borrows, the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria law school; Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist; and Tamo Campos, the founder of the non-profit organization, Beyond Boarding, and David Suzuki’s grandson.

In addition to attending six public lectures by experts in the field, students enrolled in the colloquium will take part in pre-seminars taught by Lynne Quarmby, SFU professor of microbiology and biochemistry, and Stephen Collis, SFU professor of English. The two have spent the last few months on the front lines of the protests, with Quarmby being arrested at the end of November.

“Probably half of our speakers at the colloquium were actually arrested on the mountain.”

Stephen Collis,

SFU professor of English

“I am excited to do this course in light of the experience that we’ve just been through,” said Quarmby. “Burnaby Mountain was a real life version of the course.”

Although its content has become particularly timely following the protests, Quarmby and Collis began planning the colloquium in 2013 in anticipation of the 2015 federal elections.

“We started talking about it then just in terms of a desire to hold a panel or a discussion around civil disobedience in the context of climate change, and it just snowballed from there,” explained Collis.

Quarmby added, “With the federal election looming and with there being such a large push on [large scale fossil fuel infrastructure] projects both provincially and federally, I think we’re going to see a lot more of this [sort of civil protest.]”

Collis commented that nature of the course has changed in light of the recent protests on Burnaby Mountain in opposition to the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.

“I think probably half of our speakers at the colloquium were actually arrested on the mountain,” said Collis. “It certainly makes this intellectual and public discussion we wanted to have that much more real and immediate. It tends to raise the stakes.”

The colloquium seminars are open to the public; however, each colloquium will provide an opportunity for approved SFU students to gain course credits. These students will also participate in pre-seminars, and will complete supervised research papers relating to the colloquium’s theme.

When asked what she hopes to achieve by offering this course, Quarmby replied, “We really hope that people will get a deeper appreciation for the role of civil disobedience in a democratic society, but also for the situation that we have right now in our country around climate change and Aboriginal rights.”

For Collis, now is a crucial time to engage the community and students in discussion. “We’re in a moment where the realities of climate change are becoming that much more clear all the time, and [also] the reality that our democratic system is failing to deal with them.

“What I hope for this course to accomplish is to get people better informed about what the complex issues are.”

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