Computer Centre Incident

Computer riot aftermathIn the Spring of 1968, six black West Indian students at Sir George Williams University accused a biology lecturer (later assistant professor) of racism. The complaint was lodged to the Dean of students, Magnus Flynn. Dissatisfied with how the administration was handling their complaint, the students decided to make it a public issue in the Fall of 1968. They wanted to establish a Hearing Committee - with representatives from the students, the administration and the professor - to investigate the charges.

The university agreed to establish a Hearing Committee, but problems arose with the nominations to the committee. The complainants escalated pressure tactics by organizing sit-ins and distributing leaflets informing the public about their protest.

The Hearing Committee was established although the students did not approve the representatives. On January 29, 1969, all of the complainants as well as about 200 other students walked out of the hearings in protest and occupied the Computer Centre on the ninth floor of the Hall Building. Nine days later, the occupation spread to the faculty lounge on the seventh floor.

Computer riot aftermathOn February 10 and after many days of negotiations, lawyers for the administration and the students drew up a set of proposals to settle the occupation. The proposal included the condition that the students would stop occupying the Computer Centre if the administration established a new hearing committee and helped black students catch up with courses or labs they had missed during the hearings and the occupation. While members of the administration met to ratify the proposals, it was assumed by the student protesters that the document had been accepted, and the occupation of the Computer Centre began to break up.

Less than a hundred students were left in the building later that night, when the whole negotiated agreement crumbled at the last minute. The remaining protestors barricaded the stairwells on the seventh floor and shut off the elevators and telephones. They threatened to destroy the computers if the police were called in but the university had already turned the whole matter over to the police.

By the time the riot squad and the police from Station 10 were called in on February 11, computer equipment and university property had been severely damaged and a fire had broken out in the computer centre. The damages totalled about $2 million. Ninety-seven people were arrested, 69 of whom were Sir George Williams University students and 55 of whom were white. In addition, 12 minors were charged in juvenile court.

The accused assistant biology professor, who was suspended during the crisis, was reinstated on February 12, 1969, and on June 30 that year, the Hearing Committee reported "there was nothing in the evidence (before them) to substantiate a general charge of racism" and found him not guilty of racism towards the six complainants.

The events that led to what is now known as the Computer Centre Incident forced University administrators to re-evaluate internal procedures. Student representation on university decision-making bodies was firmly established and university procedures and policies were revamped. In April 1971 Sir George Williams adopted University Regulations on Rights and Responsibilities, and the Ombuds Office was established. By December 1977, Concordia University approved a university-wide Code of Conduct and new terms of reference for the Ombuds Office.

 

© Concordia University Archives, revised February 2000