A small group of Carleton University students — queer and straight — handed out leaflets Jun 13 outside a hall. They were protesting an event inside — a convocation ceremony that included giving an honourary doctorate to a local Rabbi who favours “curing” homosexuals.
Approximately 20 students from the Carleton University Student Association and the school’s queer group, organized themselves in groups of three and four to hand out an information sheet rolled up with a rainbow sticker.
Many of the passing students and their families accepted the scroll. So did Rabbi Dr Reuven Bulka — the target of the protest. But Bulka’s wife, Leah, refused to accept the paper after seeing the rainbow accessories worn by the protestors, according to one protestor.
The leaflet objected to the Rabbi’s involvement as part of the scientific advisory committee of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a US think-tank that promotes homosexuality as an “illness” that needs curing.
The one-page document also encourages the Carleton community to be aware of future honourary nominees, and to be allowed to object to any decisions made by the University Senate Committee.
The Senate Committee notified Bulka a few months ago of his award. John Baglow, a Carleton alumnus and returning student, made Bulka’s nomination public just two weeks prior to the ceremony. Baglow thinks Bulka’s connection to NARTH should disqualify him from receiving special honours.
“No matter their achievements. Diversity does not necessarily extend to bigotry.”
The nomination process for honourary degrees should be done in public and involve the whole university community, he says.
“It makes no sense to do it in secret. It should be transparent.”
In one entrance, Carleton Security asked protesters to stand behind small orange pylons (about 15 feet) for circulation and security purposes.
Katy McIntyre, CUSA vice-president and organizer of the demonstration, says she wanted it to be peaceful
“Convocation should be about the graduands, celebrating their day and their achievements,” she says. “And honourary degrees are … a privilege. And if we do choose to extend that privilege to community members, we need to make sure that those community members align with university policies.”
Protesters said awarding Bulka violates the university’s policies of diversity on campus. Part 4.3 of Carleton’s Statement on Conduct and Human Rights (also know as the sexual orientation equality policy) says, “The university does not tolerate or condone heterosexism or negative stereotyping on the basis of sexual orientation.”
Carelton students are not alone in protesting an honourary degree this spring. Ryerson University students opposed ethicist Margaret Somerville getting an honourary degree Jun 19. Somerville is a strong opponent of same-sex marriage and believes that children need to be raised by heterosexual biological parents. Ryerson administrators said they were “unaware” of Somerville’s public pronouncements when they decided to honour her.
At the ceremony, wearing a black Kippa and a bright yellow tie underneath his blue and gray gown, Bulka, accepted the award given by the university. He ended his speech with a focus on interior decorating. If the inside is good, it will show on the outside, he told graduands. “Love our fellows so to love ourselves.”