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Free Speech on Campus Series: Barbara Kay

The following are National Post columnist Barbara Kay's concluding remarks at the MacDonald-Laurier Institute Debate on March 27, 2014. The resolution of the debate was  "Free speech in Canadian universities is an endangered species". The debate was moderated by Hon. Peter Milliken with Kay arguing in favour of the resolution and Professor Daniel Drache of York University arguing against it . Kay's remarks are republished with her permission. *** What is the purpose of a liberal education? Answers have varied over the centuries, but generally point to one or more of four goals: as an end in itself, because growing in knowledge confers happiness; as a means of shaping moral character in order to shape leaders in cultural and political life; as preparation for a useful career; and in order to contribute to an individual’s freedom. The philosophers of ancient Greece thought the last was the most important. Free men should know something about everything, to preclude their entrapment in narrow channels of thought. This view had an enormous influence on the British tradition to which our universities owe so much. The counter-culture of the 1960s drew a bright line between all past understandings and the present understanding of what universities were for. Standing on one leg, one might say that in the past universities felt it was their mission to teach students how to think, and in doing so it was considered natural to use as a teaching guide, as Mathew Arnold put it, “the best which has been thought and said” in our culture. For more than 40 years, universities have considered it their mission to teach students what to think, and our western civilization’s cultural canon is the last place to look for the content they wish to convey. Former dean of Yale College and 2002 recipient… Read More

Free Speech on Campus Series: University of Waterloo

Just over one year ago at the University of Waterloo, Kitchener Centre MP Stephen Woodworth was invited to speak to members of a pro-life club on campus. Woodworth had previously tabled a private members' bill, asking Parliament to form a committee to examine when life begins. However, when Woodworth began to give his presentation on campus, he was quickly heckled by protesters who claimed that his, “talk about the universality of human rights came from an oppressive western discourse that ignores the rights of indigenous people”. However, the protesters failed to explain how Woodworth’s bill was even remotely relevant to this issue. The campus police requested that Woodworth leave the event in the interest of his safety. I started my studies at the University of Waterloo in the fall and was pleased to see that Stephen Woodworth was scheduled to give another presentation to the UW Students for Life. However, in light of the previous disaster, admission would occur on a ticketed basis. My concern is not to argue the pros and cons of the abortion debate, but to bring into question the reasoning that is so often used to strip away the right to free speech. The protesters at this event defended their actions by saying that they were done in the interests of indigenous rights. In other words, these actions were defended by proponents of “social justice”. The problem that “social justice” presents is twofold. The term itself is incredibly subjective and its usage can be as broad as it user intends it to be. The Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG)'s “action groups” receive funding via an automatic fee levied on students. These groups are set up to address various social justice issues, but must receive prior approval from WPIRG. Thus, in this case social justice is defined by… Read More

Free Speech on Campus Series: Carleton University

Andres Gallacher is a Global Politics student at Carleton University. He is the Vice-President and Director of Finance for the Carleton Campus Conservatives. He is also completing an internship at a Canadian foreign affairs think tank. Here's what he had to say about free speech at Carleton.  The Prince Arthur Herald: Do you think free speech is protected on Carleton campus? Andres Gallacher: There are many examples which bring that into question. For instance, the tearing down of the Students for Liberty free speech wall showed that some Carleton groups actively tried to destroy something that they disagreed with. Another example is the prolife group who are cut off from student union clubs funding and told to remove themselves from campus. They also protested in the quad with graphic images and their protest was shut down and some of the people arrested. PETA has done similar demonstrations with graphic images on campus and their protests did not get shut down. PAH: That's interesting. What other things have been done to censor the prolife group? AG: The prolife group has to be recognized group to request a room on campus to meet. The graduate student union was the most vocal activist for the shutting down of the prolife group protests. It was the university administration which shut down the protest, but the graduate student association started handing out pro-choice literature at the campus bar and asserted that the debate on abortion was "over". PAH: Why do you think it's important for free speech to be protected on campus? AG: I think if someone says something ridiculous, racist, stupid, etc, they will be alienated for it. It's very easy to refute them and use the facts to make them look foolish. This also applies to debates. We should not be afraid of the… Read More

Free Speech on Campus Series: Dalhousie University

Andrew Komlodi is a recent political science and philosophy graduate from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. As a student activist, he ran as a presidential candidate for the Dalhousie Student Union and opposed the DSU leaving the Canadian Alliance of Students Association. He is currently completing his Master of Dispute Resolution at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. We invited him to reminisce about his student activism at Dalhousie in the context of this series. The Prince Arthur Herald: Do you think free speech is under threat on Canadian campuses? Andrew Komlodi: I would say that, as seems to be the case generally on university campuses, there is a threat that free speech may become endangered.  What scares me is that certain student unions and university policies seem to encourage self-censorship – the institution isn’t censoring people per se, but rather fostering an environment where students feel compelled to read from the same hymn book rather than think critically and express alternative ideas or worldviews to their peers.  And that’s a tragedy, considering a university should, in my view, first and foremost foster critical thinking and debate. PAH: Do you know if your student union's constitution protects free speech? AK: The Dalhousie Student Union constitution does not protect students’ right to free speech – in fact, it has the power to censor whatever it deems worthy of censorship.  I’m not sure how often this power to censor is wielded, but if it is wielded, I suspect the culture of the D.S.U. would protect those responsible. PAH: The 2013 JCCF Campus Freedom Index rated your school one of the worst schools for free speech on campus. Do you think this is a fair assessment? AK: I think the rating was accurate.  In my view, anything short of a culture that… Read More

Free Speech on Campus Series: Wilfrid Laurier University

Ian Merkley is a political science and history student at Wilfrid Laurier University. He served as the President of Laurier Students for Liberty and the President of the Laurier Campus Conservatives. He is a student activist who has been involved with student union elections, the governance of the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's recent campaign called Generation Screwed. We caught up with Ian to discuss his most recent efforts to advance free speech at Laurier. The Prince Arthur Herald: Do you believe free speech is “an endangered species” on the Laurier campus? Ian Merkley: Not endangered, but there are certainly warning signs. The university’s special constable recently took down a poster that was blatantly anti-Israel and borderline offensive. This could be interpreted as a signal of free speech’s limitations here at Laurier. PAH: Do you think there is a double standard with how free speech is promoted on your campus? IM:  It’s more of a question of who defines what is offensive and whether there are checks and balances on that power. Those who define what is offensive on campus usually have their own ideological slant. For instance, the student union did not allow a club called the Free Thought Alliance to become recognized on the grounds that the club was “not inclusive”. At the same time, religious groups (i.e. Christians, Muslims) are able to exclude non-practicing members from the executives of their group. So absolutely, there can be a double standard. The administration has rules in place but sometimes they choose not to review the clubs' constitutions so then the rules are selectively enforced in those cases. PAH: Is your newspaper able to be critical of student union practices? IM: We have a newspaper that can be and has been critical of the student government… Read More

Free Speech on Campus Series: Queen’s University

As students in Ukraine and Venezuela take to the streets to protest against their tyrannical governments for their right to live as free and dignified individuals, we ought to reflect on how blessed we are to live in a country like Canada. But, at the same time, it is essential to realize that the liberties we cherish are not absolute. To continue to have them, we must do more than use buzzwords to pay freedom lip service - we must live freely. That starts with expressing yourself. Freedom of speech, the ability to express ourselves as we please, is the foundation of all other freedoms. It is our way of shaping society and  protecting our liberties. Here in Canada we are lucky to have this freedom, unlike students in countless other countries around the world. However, we are squandering that right and nowhere is this truer than in our universities. By free expression, I mean quite simply being able to say what one wants regardless of how much it offends someone else. Anything short of threats of violence and repeated harassment should be permitted. No, we should not as a community tolerate homophobia, racism, and the degradation of one's religion or lack thereof. We should allow these views to be expressed and challenge them in a calm, respectful manner. That is a safe speech, and that is how we can effectively create a more tolerant society - by being tolerant. Ostracizing and silencing those who disagree not only creates a hostile university environment, it is ineffective. Over the past couple of years, there have been a number of incidents that have made me question our universities’ commitment to being institutions of free and open discourse. Here at Queen’s, the most recent example of a failure to uphold the values of a… Read More
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