Early in October, the University of Toronto's radio station, CIUT, was temporarily taken off the air by the UofT's Student Administration Council (SAC) and then radically re-tooled. Among the changes were a major restructuring of the on-air schedule which included the shortening or elimination of existing shows, and the selling of CIUT's unregulated midnight-to-six AM time slot to a private company for the purpose of broadcasting rave and trance music.
While most UofT students never listen to CIUT and don't care much about what happens to it, the reaction of CIUT volunteers was predictable. One gentleman referred to the reforms as "totalitarian and fascist", and the campus was soon plastered with signs decrying the death of "democracy" at the UofT.
Yes, it is certainly true that student government elections are typically marked by very low turnout rates, yet it is patently absurd to argue that the actions taken are somehow a violation of democratic principles. The UofT SAC at least possesses a kernel of legitimacy, whereas the CIUT crowd can best be described as unelected, unaccountable, and hopelessly unrepresentative of the larger student body. For that matter, quite a few volunteers are not students at all, but middle-aged activists with little or no connection to the university.
All too often, university radio stations become forums for bad music and crackpot leftism (or "alternative" views, as they are euphemistically referred to); all at the expense of ordinary students, who have been forced to pay increasingly high tuition rates in recent years. Even worse, university radio volunteers tend to form cliques which exclude genuine student participation; especially when students choose not to embrace "alternative" ideas. This was certainly my experience with CIUT in late 1995-early 1996.
As the Features Editor of a UofT newspaper, I was asked, along with a few colleagues, to occasionally participate in a half-hour program devoted to campus issues called "Fit to Print". On several occasions, my Editor-in-Chief and I were advised to include more left-wing participants in the segments we were responsible for, because CIUT is not commercial radio, and exists as a forum for "alternative" opinions which would otherwise never be broadcast. Needless to say, my Editor and I were stunned; here was an institution designed to provide a voice for all UofT students that had become captured by an intolerant, Politically Correct elite.
The end came when my group began to discuss UofT's "Positive Space" campaign - an attempt to make gays and lesbians feel more at home by placing little rainbow-coloured triangular stickers everywhere. I remarked that the program was a waste of student funds and unlikely to change homophobic attitudes. Moreover, the purpose of a university education is to teach people "how" to think, rather than "what" to think. I added that as homosexuality is generally tolerated rather than accepted by society for religious and other reasons, and there is certainly no consensus of opinions on the subject, it was wrong to spend student money to instruct students on what to think. While I attempted only to make a neutral sociological observation, my words about "tolerance" and "acceptance" were deemed to be offensive. My Editor and I were both full-time students at the university, yet we were "suspended" from the show and asked not to return. "Inclusiveness", it would seem, has its limits.
University radio stations and newspapers should of course have the freedom to broadcast or print opinions outside of the "mainstream", but not to exclude other opinions from students who wish to get involved. The student council's takeover of CIUT should not be seen as a violation of democracy, but as democracy in action. Students at the University of Toronto were never asked if they wished to see their radio station become the mouthpiece for elitist ideologues, and it is only proper for their elected representatives to take action. Perhaps other university councils will follow suitů