All Posts Tagged With: "free speech"
BC Civil Liberties Association defends club’s free speech
Cameron Côté, a graduate of the University of Victoria and former president of Youth Protecting Youth, a pro-life student club, has teamed up with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association to sue the university, “seeking relief from the persistent, illegal censorship of the civil, peaceful expression of pro-life opinion on the campus.”
In 2011, the University of Victoria Students’ Society, which declared itself pro-choice, tried to revoke club status of YPY and, later that year when the club held a “choice chain” event showing provocative images of fetuses to passersby, found them guilty of “harassment” and temporarily took away access to student space.
In 2012, James Dunsdon, the university’s associate vice-president of student affairs, cited the SFSS decision when he told YPY to cancel another planned “choice chain.” After the protest went ahead, YPY members again lost booking privileges and were threatened by Dunsdon with sanctions.
Abortion, Israel and men’s issues are hot topics on campus
Universities are supposed to be safe places to debate controversial ideas but school administrators and students leaders would sometimes prefer instead to enforce their own points of view, even if it means silencing others.
As a result, the limits of free speech are frequently debated on campus. This week it’s at the University of Manitoba where a pro-life group is showing photos comparing abortion to the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide. Student Ashley James told the Winnipeg Free Press that it’s preventing her from focusing at school.
One can bet where the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms would stand. They want controversial speech protected. According to their 2013 Campus Freedom Index, released Tuesday, 23 of the 45 universities graded this year have failed to stop censorship. Each administration and student union was assigned two A to F letter grades, one based on policies and the other on practices. Their conclusion: “Our country’s institutions of higher education have failed in their promise to uphold the sanctity of free speech in its most cherished and necessary form: the discussion of controversial ideas, frank and spirited debate, and the pursuit of truth.”
What students are talking about today (April 4th)
1. Queen’s University instructed security officers to rip down a free speech wall in a student centre because it “allegedly included language that constituted hate speech,” according to an official press release. A video of a blonde-haired officer removing the banner has been widely-viewed on YouTube. The wall, little more than paper with words scribbled on it, was encouraged by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms and erected by the local group Queen’s Students for Liberty. What exactly was so offensive is unclear, but it was bad enough that the administration chose to act. “Queen’s recognizes the right of free speech, but appreciates too the limits on free speech. Hate speech and racial slurs have no place on our campus,” wrote Alan Harrison, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) in the statement. The Alma Mater Society, which owns the space, put out a statement too. “Queen’s Students for Liberty was given an opportunity to remove these two denigrating comments, and return the space to one of inclusive, free dialogue for all,” wrote president Doug Johnson. “When the club failed to act, the offensive material was removed.” A free speech wall erected at Carleton University in January was torn down by a student who claimed it was anti-gay.
2. Speaking of free speech and hate speech, students at Towson University in Maryland are fighting back against a white supremacist group’s declaration that it will start “night patrols” on campus. At a student-organized rally, the university’s president praised efforts to peacefully oppose the White Student Union. Matt Heimbach, spokesman of white group, told ABC News he believes multiculturalism is being forced on America. Yes, this is really happening in 2013.
3. Stephen Toope, president of the University of British Columbia, annouced Wednesday that he will step down in 2014 and then he gave an interview to The Ubyssey student newspaper. Heather Munroe-Blum, principal of the equally well-respected McGill University, who is also stepping down, did an exit interview of sorts with campus media too. The differences between the questions student reporters asked are a reminder of the contrast between generally sunny UBC students and the almost endlessly antagonistic McGill crowd. McGill student reporters asked questions like, “How can McGill say that it’s part of Quebec, and, at the same time, call tuition fees sacred?” and “Do you think [the police] could have had different tactics?” Meanwhile, at UBC, The Ubyssey reporter asked Toope questions like, “Do you think raising UBC to a global level is one of your core achievements?” For the record, I think it’s obvious that both Toope and Munroe-Blum have been strong leaders.
4. Bill Clinton told reporters ahead of a meeting with student leaders that he sees the cost of college as a major problem. “We can’t continue to see the cost of education go up every decade when wages are flat,” he told Inside Higher Education. “I think the only sustainable answer is to find a less expensive delivery system,” he added, saying the next step is, “for someone to certify what you need to know and then figure out some way of validating the merits of these online courses.”
5. The University of Calgary Dinos sports teams have unveiled a new logo, which is, obviously, a dinosaur. More interesting is that Calgary also announced a five-year partnership that will put Nike swooshes on uniforms. Speaking of corporate sponsorship deals, the Petro Canada Hall at Memorial University in Newfoundland has been renamed for Suncor Energy, which donated $50,000, reports The Muse student newspaper. There once was a time when there would be major outcries against corporate sponsorship deals on campus. Apparently that’s no longer the case.
Whatever happened to debate?
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) takes issue with a men’s issues club. If it were not so serious, it would be laughable. An organization that collects hundreds of thousands of dollars in mandatory levies from Ryerson students is afraid of three students—two of them women—starting a men’s issues group.
Despite the constant rhetoric about diversity, equity and inclusion, the RSU cannot tolerate ideologies that run counter to its own. The irony of this patronizing attitude towards campus freedom is hard to miss. It’s as if the spirit of closed-minded religious dogma has jumped into bed with modern political correctness to prevent blasphemy against RSU ideological orthodoxy.
The principle is this: if you challenge official narrative, you don’t have the right to speak. But this is supposed to be a university—a place where we learn and debate in an open environment; where those we disagree with are challenged, not with censorship, but with other ideas. To agree to disagree and to respectfully debate—this is true tolerance.
What students are talking about today (March 14th)
1. Here’s a reminder of how student governments in the United States have much different concerns than our own. The student congress of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill recently changed the rules to make it harder for campus gun clubs to use student money to buy ammunition, reports Mother Jones. Following high-profile mass shootings on campuses, a number of states have passed laws preventing concealed guns on campus. More controversially, others, like Colorado and Utah, have laws that require colleges to allow concealed weapons.
2. Student newspapers across Canada, from The Argosy at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick to The Meliorist at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta are publishing odes to St. Patrick, whose holiday for Irish Canadians and those who drink too much is coming up on Sunday. Meanwhile, Western University, in the town that hosted the famous St. Patty’s Day Riot last March, is offering some tips. Some are no brainers, like, have a plan of how you’ll get home (transit? taxi?) and don’t leave drinks unattended. More interesting are the reminders from Campus Police that keg parties are illegal, that drinking underage can lead to $125 tickets and that London’s new Nuisance Party Bylaw means rowdy hosts can face $500 fines. The lesson? Go to someone else’s party.
Emma Teitel on the Janice Fiamengo affair
Read more from Emma Teitel on Macleans.ca.
Nothing says free speech like pulling the fire alarm. It was a quarter past seven last night when police emptied U of T’s George Ignatieff Theatre. Keynote speaker Dr. Janice Fiamengo, an English professor at the University of Ottawa, rolled her eyes and adjusted her blouse as the crowd poured out of the building and onto the sidewalk to mingle with the small throng of protesters—pretty girls with big placards and little patience. They wanted Dr. Fiamengo to take her message elsewhere. But firemen came and went, and the professor, once a radical feminist, proceeded to do what the University of Toronto Men’s Issues Awareness Society, and the Canadian Association for Equality invited her to do: denounce women’s studies.
The discipline has devolved into an “intellectually incoherent and dishonest” one, she argued, replacing a “callow set of slogans for real thought.” It’s man-hating, anti-Western, and fundamentally illiberal. “It champions a “kind of masculinity that isn’t very masculine at all,” and shuts down freedom of debate, hence the fire alarm.
This message was quite pleasing to the minority in the room—greying baby boomers of the pro-Fiamengo, Men’s rights camp–and exceedingly distressing to the majority—by the looks of it, gender studies majors and people who would, if given the opportunity, personally execute Rob Ford. It looked like a small contingent of CARP wandered, bemused, into a Bon Iver concert.
Appearances aside though, it was a meeting of truly lunatic minds.
A few placards, a full house and a long line to speak
Janice Fiamengo, a professor who advocates for men’s rights, gave a lecture at the University of Toronto on Thursday evening entitled What’s wrong with Women’s Studies? Naturally, there were dozens of protesters, a few police, and a fire alarm set off, but free speech prevailed, her lecture was given and her opponents were able to challenge her afterward. Here’s what it looked like.
The fire alarm went off, but free speech prevailed
I was expecting the police officers, the provocative placards, and the rent-a-protesters with neon hair and black face coverings.
I was also expecting the fire alarm to go off—and it did—five minutes after Janice Fiamengo’s lecture started in the nearly full George Ignatieff Theatre at the University of Toronto on Thursday evening.
After all, the last time a person spoke against academic feminism on campus, when Warren Farrell visited in November, approximately 100 protesters barred the doors. They wouldn’t try that again, but I figured they’d try to shut things down, and fire alarms can be effective if, during the confusion, enough people give up and leave.
What I wasn’t expecting was a full house 20 minutes later, after the fire department gave the all clear, or that the controversial University of Ottawa professor would make it all the way through her lecture What’s wrong with women’s studies? without an angry mob attempting to shout her down.
Don’t misunderstand me. They denounced her lecture vigorously, but not until the question and answer period after she spoke. During the lecture, most people were respectfully silent.
The general non-violence of the evening—save for the childish fire alarm routine—is a sign of progress. There were no immediate reports of injuries or arrests. The academic’s voice remained strong. The University of Toronto’s Statement on Freedom of Speech and its Policy on the Disruption of Meetings, mentioned though not read by the moderator, served their purposes well.
So what exactly was so controversial? Few protesters ahead of the meeting could offer specific reasons, except that her talk was promoted by A Voice for Men, whose associates have said some hostile things to women. It’s true that Fiamengo dislikes most of today’s academic feminism, but I think the most offensive thing she said was that, when the Titanic sank, 75 per cent of women survived, but only 18 per cent of men did, because men are somehow naturally heroic.
The rest of the talk was a fairly common critique of feminism. She called it empty, incoherent and dishonest. She said its obsession with violence results in police charging men for assault, while absolving women. She denounced a family law system she says is biased against fathers. She said she is infuriated by “affirmative action where men are passed over time and time again.” She talked about the hypocrisy that women’s studies sees violence around every corner in Canada, but turns a blind eye to the deadly oppression of women and sexual minorities in the Islamic world. And so on.
She also praised a local Toronto feminist, Steph Guthrie, who was interviewed in Metro News about the upcoming talk. Guthrie told the paper that instead of trying to shut Fiamengo down like they did to Warren Farrell, Fiamengo’s detractors should go to the lecture, ask tough questions and debate.
And that’s what many of the would-be hecklers did. In order to stand up to that Q&A microphone and challenge her with dozens of balding men glaring and videotaping, they had to have at least listened to Fiamengo’s arguments well enough to come up with their own rebuttals. That left them scribbling down on notepads and keying into smartphones in eager anticipation while she spoke.
That’s not to say many minds were changed. Many asked questions that betrayed either their admiration or disgust for Fiamengo. In fact, some of them didn’t ask questions at all, and instead just ranted about personal grievances at the hands of those evil women or those evil men.
But there were interesting back-and-forths, including one between a self-identified McGill student who asked Fiamengo to explain why “only 25 per cent of parliament is female-identified.” (I wonder how she knows all 308 member of parliaments’ gender identities, but never mind.) “There’s a difference between equality of opportunity and equality of result,” Fiamengo replied.
Only one person really lost her temper, after making a thought-provoking query about the impact of Fiamengo’s assertion that “children need their fathers” on lesbian parents. Fiamengo responded by suggesting there’s research that children do better in two-parent households. She didn’t like the answer. “That’s heteronormative bullshit,” the woman screamed, before a dramatic exit.
I don’t know that Fiamengo made a sound academic case. What I do know is that she deserves respect for gathering evidence and calmly presenting it. She also offered advice all students should heed. “Educate yourselves so you can challenge [each other],” and, “do it will style, not hatred.”
She’s right on that. The freedom to debate unpopular ideas is something universities have a duty to protect. On Thursday night at the University of Toronto, that ideal was challenged but prevailed.
It’s not really about the censorship
When Stephanie Wolfe banned her students from citing the Onion, “literally a parody,” and Fox News, “a biased news station,” she was not firing any kind of ideological salvo. This West Liberty University Visiting Assistant Professor was probably, like most of her peers, pressed for time and a little nervous about taking over for a full-time Professor. The syllabus contains typos, internet phraseology, and is generally slap-dash as students have come to expect from the necessarily distracted young paupers who now teach many of their undergraduate courses.
Though the school would of course assassinate the poor woman before letting her make a statement, I think it’s safe to assume she didn’t put up much of a defence of her offhand prohibition. She’s sorry, the school’s president is sorry, the syllabus is corrected, and Megyn Kelly got to indulge her passion for poorly concealed sneering. Shouldn’t we all be happy, now?
You won’t believe what they’re spending it on
It’s the time of year when most students in Canada ignore posters imploring them to vote for student government executives. Although student unions may seem irrelevant, they’re not. They collect millions of dollars each year in mandatory student fees and spend it, sometimes on things most students wouldn’t support—if only they knew.
Here are six stupid things Canadian student unions did with your money. If this doesn’t motivate you to research the candidates and vote in your campus elections, I don’t know what will.
1. Spent it on big parties you didn’t attend
Avicii, one of the top electronic acts in the world, doesn’t usually show up in places like Windsor, Ont. Snoop Dogg doesn’t often party in St. John’s, Nfld. It should be no surprise then that the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance lost about $40,000 on their show in September and that the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union lost $100,000 on Snoop. The Kwantlen Student Association may hold the record though. They lost $128,000 on Jay Sean. Jay… who?
What students are talking about today (February 4th)
1. It’s not just teacher’s college where the number of applicants is falling. Law schools in the United States are in crisis mode after statistics from the Law School Admission Council show that the number of applicants dropped 20 per cent from last year after falling 14 per cent the year before. In Canada the number of applicants is down four per cent, which is certainly not a crisis and may even be good news considering there is a small shortage of articling positions. Bill Flanagan, president of the Canadian Council of Law Deans, offered Canadian Lawyer Magazine his assessment. “On average, tuition at Canadian law schools is much more affordable than many U.S. law schools,” he said, adding, “the job market for Canadian law grads is better in many Canadian legal markets than it is for U.S. law grads in many U.S. legal markets.”
On the Christian law school where gays need not apply
Have you heard? Free speech is a thing of the past. And religious liberty is dying fast.
It began last week when Arun Smith, a seventh-year human rights student at Carleton University in Ottawa, tore down a “free speech wall” on campus because it featured socially conservative comments. The action inspired three National Post columns and an Ezra Levant exclusive lamenting the end of freedom of expression as we know it.
Elsewhere, on the religious liberty front, the Canadian Council of Law Deans wrote a letter of protest to Canada’s Federation of Law Societies about Trinity Western University. The Christian liberal arts school in British Columbia wants to open a law school that would require students to sign a Community Covenant Agreement that pledges “Healthy Sexuality.” The agreement has nothing to do with gonorrhea or how to avoid it: what’s to be avoided is love and sex between people of the same gender (which is, I guess, by Trinity Western’s standards, worse than gonorrhea). “Sexual intimacy,” says the covenant, “is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman.” In other words, gays need not apply.
What students are talking about today (January 23)
1. Seventh-year Carleton University human rights student Arun Smith has apparently not been in school long enough to learn that other people have rights to opinions that differ from his. After the “free speech wall” on campus was torn down, he posted a message to his Facebook wall claiming responsibility. “If everyone speaks freely we end up simply reinforcing the hierarchies that are created in our society,” it read. The display had been erected by campus club Carleton Students for Liberty and students were encouraged to write anything they wanted on the paper. Someone wrote “abortion is murder” and “traditional marriage is awesome.” GBLTQ Centre volunteer Riley Evans took offense, telling The Charlatan student newspaper that the wall was attacking those who have had abortions and those in same-sex relationships. Campus coordinator for the CSFL Ian CoKehyeng explained the purpose of the wall: “We feel that university is supposed to be an area of discourse and free thought, but it’s actually the opposite. We have less free speech on campus.” Looks like he may be right.
What students are talking about today (January 14th)
1. Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls won the Golden Globe for best TV comedy series last night right before the highly-anticipated premiere of the second season. I’d argue the opener was a bit of a letdown. Lead character Hannah (played by Dunham) has smartened up a bit by rejecting her mean sort-of-boyfriend in favour of new guy who presumably treats her better. If she gets too mature, that’s a problem as her Gen-Y cluelessness provided so much of the comic relief and provoked so many of the broader societal questions. Some of the other characters, including straight-laced Marnie, seem to also be changing in ways that make them less believeable. Interestingly, Dunham seems to have acknowledged those who accused Girls of being too white; her new fling is a black man.
Avicii, Beer4Breakfast, Bedpush, Trudeau & Ryan Gosling
1. Honouring the American tradition of free speech and big lawsuits, the University of California Davis has set aside $980,000 to settle with 21 students and alumni who were pepper-sprayed by campus police during an otherwise peaceful Occupy protest last November. Students will get $30,000 each; the plaintiffs’ attorneys will get $250,000.
2. An online reality show called Beer4Breakfast is looking for Canada’s best party city by visiting a number of campuses in southwestern Ontario, reports the Western Gazette. The show’s producers say they will supply a party host with a bartender, DJ and professional photographer and then grade it based on party tricks, popularity, originality, team morale and shock factor. What could possibly go wrong?
3. Skiers near Flagstaff, Arizona will soon be gliding atop fake snow made from 100 per cent sewage effluent. “It’s a disaster, culturally and environmentally,” Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity told the New York Times, adding that he worries about the impact on the alpine tundra and to humans should skiers fall into the treated sewer-water snow and ingest it.
University defends controversial campus conference
This post first appeared on Michael Petrou’s The World Desk blog on Macleans.ca.
My article about a conference at Carleton University honouring Iran’s founding dictator Ayatollah Khomeini prompted a condemnatory letter from several prominent Iranian scholars to Carleton President Roseann O’Reilly Runte, as well as responsive missives from O’Reilly Runte and from John Osborne, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
I’ve reprinted the exchanges below. Tracking the dates and salutations, it looks possible that I’m missing one of the letters. If so, its absence here is unintentional. I have also deleted email addresses and phone numbers that appeared in the email address lines, and have added the full name of recipients where they were otherwise abbreviated. Everything else is posted here verbatim.
A good chunk of the debate centres on free speech. Osborne casts himself as a defender of the principle. “It is my duty as a scholar to vehemently oppose any attempts to restrict freedom of speech, and I shall do so until my dying breath,” he writes.
As it happens, I’m a free speech fundamentalist. If Carleton students want to hold a conference praising a murderous advocate of child rape, and if the university is content to host and promote the event, that’s their right. (Under Khomeini, Iran lowered the age when a girl could be “married” to nine; and the old man himself wrote that it was permissible to receive sexual pleasure from babies.)
Charter of Rights applies, says judge
Campus free speech advocates are celebrating today, thanks to University of Calgary graduates Steven and Keith Pridgen, 22, and their unwillingness to accept their alma mater’s punishments.
The Alberta Court of Appeal upheld on Wednesday a ruling that the twin brothers were wrongfully punished for criticizing Aruna Mitra, their law professor, in 2007 Facebook postings.
The university put them on six months probation until they agreed to write a written apology for the statements, which the dean had deemed defamatory after a complaint from Mitra.
Let the kid wear his offensive Jesus shirt: Pettigrew
This week, Nova Scotia student William Swinimer was suspended from his high school in the town of Chester Basin for wearing a t-shirt that read, “Life is WASTED without Jesus.” While school officials say the shirt is inappropriate, Swinimer says he is merely standing up for his religious beliefs and exercising free expression.
School board superintendent Nancy Pynch-Worthylake says the board is going to hire an expert to mediate the dispute.
Since I am already in Nova Scotia and am always right about everything, let me save the good people of Canada’s Ocean Playground some money by explaining what that exquisitely-named functionary should do.
Let the kid wear his shirt.
Some people in B.C. have their panties in a twist
I would guess that the vast majority of Canadian Muslims, thoughtful, tolerant, law-abiding citizens, must really hate it when their fellow Muslims go crazy over the barest of perceived slights.
If my guess is right, there must be a lot of sighing going after news broke yesterday that a brou-ha-ha had erupted at Thompson Rivers University over a photo of a woman wearing a niqab and abaya (garments sometimes worn by some Muslim women that cover almost the entire body) while looking at a bra.
The University of Waterloo is once again preparing for protesters who might try to shut down a speech, reports The Waterloo Record. The university says it will protect 80-year-old Charles Rice with extra police when the Catholic professor emeritus gives the annual Pascal Lecture on Christianity next Tuesday on the topic of morality, enlightenment and The Natural Law. The former professor is opposed to same-sex marriages and abortion, which has caused some students to oppose the lecture. Protesters successfully shut down a talk by writer Christie Blatchford when she first tried to speak to an audience of 27 people at the university about her book on the Six Nations occupation of Caledonia in November 2010. Her rescheduled speech drew a crowd of 300.