Point: focus on the Knolligarchy

An opinion piece by Jesse Ferreras, M.J. Candidate, UBC School of Journalism. Counterpoint coming next week.

There’s a war on truth at this University, and a resurgent movement of leftist radicals is fighting on its front line. I’m speaking, of course, about the Knolligarchy, formerly a joke name that now encompasses UBC’s newly-visible activist front. It’s a group of people affiliated with the AMS Resource Groups that is hot off a “Resisting the University” conference, which culminated today with a march of about a dozen people and an invasion of a meeting in the Board of Governors chambers (to the amusement of all those present.)

First off, let’s give credit where it’s due. The activist well had run dry at this university – it’s been years since a decent protest has been held anywhere on the Point Grey campus, at least since the quiet, passive protests that came in advance of the Iraq War. In this context, the Knolligarchy is a breath of fresh air. They’ve managed to inject just a little bit of excitement into campus life with events such as Trek Park and Trek Park 2.0, as well as the recent conference. It was music to my ears to hear an activist yelling into a megaphone and leading a march across campus last Friday. It at least gave me the impression something was happening.

But that’s enough credit. Let’s cut to the facts.

The Knolligarchy gets its namesake from The Knoll, a partisan campus publication that seems to avoid editing and facts as a matter of editorial policy. Describing itself as a “Weekly” (a “Monthly” might be more accurate) it is published through the AMS Resource Groups. The groups collectively receive $1.50 per student per annum, according to outgoing VP Finance Brittany Tyson. This year the I can’t be sure of the amount of money that goes specifically to publishing the Knoll, but it must come from somewhere within that $1.50.

This money is put towards a publication that advertises itself as partisan news coverage and thereafter sets out on espousing what can be more accurately called revolutionary fervour than news, more anonymous articles than journalistic agency. They don’t, however, get their message out solely through the publication – they also do it through public appearances and direct action techniques.

An example is a little episode in the Ubyssey office in early January. Stefanie Ratjen, Jasmine Ramze Rezaee and Nate Crompton, three of the Knolligarchy’s most prominent members, came into the office to complain about the front page of its first issue in 2008. The top story, splashed across the top of the paper, was “Activists vandalize Ponderosa complex,” accompanied by pictures of broken glass. Beneath it, to the left, was “Trek Park bulldozed,” a story about the mysterious razing of the Trek Park installation.

Crompton, Ratjen and Ramze Rezaee, despite having a story on the front page, complained that the Ubyssey hadn’t put the Trek Park story at the top. They were unhappy about the association given to activists by placing the story at the top (a fair complaint) but also that the Trek Park story, despite being devoid of a good photo to accompany it, was not placed at the top. Crompton went on to complain that “I said all these interesting things,” going so far as to call the issue a “fraud.” Nate argued that the University had “declared war” on Trek Park, notably ignoring the fact that their protest had devolved into a trash heap after the elements caught up with it over the course of several months. The three of them left the office clearly dissatisfied with the dialogue they had with me and a few Ubyssey editors, with Ramze Rezaee remarking, “I hoped to get more out of this conversation.”

The campaign of misinformation began in earnest MKduring the AMS elections. Language is always subjective and contentious, but this group of students has taken misleading rhetoric at UBC to embarrassing new heights.

Stefanie Ratjen made grand overtures to students, spreading falsehoods like “Translink is a private corporation” until I called her on it on my blog. Ramze Rezaee was at her side throughout the campaign, at one point asking VP Academic candidates what they felt about military funding for the International Relations program. IRSA president Gordon Hawkins saved students the trouble of swallowing this tripe when he corrected her publicly, saying that the Liu Institute for the Study of Global Issues receives funding from the Department of National Defence, and not the IR program. Ramze Rezaee exclaimed, “It’s the same thing!”

The lies propagated by members of the Knolligarchy reached their peak when Ramze Rezaee created “Freeman Poritz Watch,” a Facebook group devoted to ruining his campaign for VP External, and had a curious similarity with the anti-Semitic “Jew Watch” website that Poritz himself noted. The group was registered under the name “Sandra Davidson” but the fact of its creation showed up in Ramze Rezaee’s Facebook mini-feed when she started it. In the group’s description she castigated Freeman as “anti-woman,” “militaristic,” a “frat boy” and “xenophobic,” with nothing credible to support the latter claim (the reason, if I remember correctly, was his unfortunate comment about feeling cheated that international students get their degrees and then leave – an impulsive comment, to be sure, but hardly xenophobic.) Its members eventually included Nate Crompton and others involved in the Knolligarchy. At some point the site was taken down, but Freeman was undoubtedly hurt by its claims, notably its unwarranted accusation of xenophobia and its similarity to “Jew Watch” – an antisemitic website.

Today we find the Knolligarchy in an unfettered quest for power at UBC – and they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty. Tristan Markle, your new VP Administration, got them covered with ink when he was caught on camera February 27 defacing posters near the Pit that read “I support Alex Lougheed!” with the added slogan “Right to Cheat.” The posters themselves have come in response to a complaint from Nate Crompton, who alleges that Lougheed voted for himself 12 times in the AMS elections for the position of VP Academic. The votes weren’t counted and the complaint came more than 72 hours after the election results were announced, thus nullifying the complaint according to AMS Code Section IX, Article 8 (1). Markle, however, is living on the hope that he can help put three members of the Knolligarchy on the AMS Executive, even though another election would likely have to be held if Lougheed was impeached, the only way he can be removed from his position at this point.

The scariest thing about this is his tactics may be effective. If there is another byelection, I have little doubt that Nate will run again. And given the pathetic turnout of voters to byelections, as in the VP Admin campaign, he could very well win.

The Knolligarchy’s strength resides in caring about the things that most students don’t. They rallied to Tristan Markle’s side for his election to be VP Admin and succeeded in putting him in office. I hadn’t previously believed it when Patrick Meehan told me the Knolligarchy could count for approximately 400 votes for any candidate – these days I’m more inclined to agree with him.

In short, the Knolligarchy is a force to be reckoned with, and its publication, The Knoll, is a great avenue for them to get their message out. You’re helping it get out there by paying your AMS fees. A small amount of those fees are being placed towards the AMS Resource Groups, and a portion of that amount is ensuring that the Knolligarchy has a publication through which to advocate their leftist political leanings. It’s starting to succeed to the same degree that Conrad Black did in making Canada a more conservative place when he started the National Post – of course, he wasn’t funded out of the public purse. It won’t stop until someone reviews how funds are being allocated to the AMS Resource Groups – and specifically, the Knoll.

In any other governmental system, it’s deeply unethical to put public funds towards a partisan cause. Here, purely by paying your AMS fees on top of your tuition, that’s exactly what’s happening. Those fees are being towards the AMS Resource Groups and subsequently the Knoll, which is in turn publishing reasons why its friends and close acquaintances should hold public office at UBC. It’s like the Government of Canada, rather than the Conservative Party, using a pamphlet to campaign for Stephen Harper. Why should students get away with it?

Activism certainly has a place on this campus – without the Great Trek, we wouldn’t be studying or living in the buildings that we’re in today. But truth deserves a place here too – and the Knolligarchy doesn’t seem too keen to let it stand in the way of its actions.


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