The View From Here – Universities abdicate their responsibilities by failing to defend free speech

Tom Henihan

It is remarkable how many Canadian universities have to have their hand forced in order to behave with moral courage and intellectual honesty. It is not just remarkable that they behave in such a defensive, and cowardly manner but that they actively resist being viable institutions of learning, and intellectual discourse.

It is apparent that many universities have are co-opted by special interest groups who broker no dissent and make every effort to silence any opposing voices.

The continuing onslaught of political correctness and infantile hyper-sensitivity on campuses is also evident in the eighth annual ‘Campus Freedom Index,’ which finds seven Canadian universities to have failed in upholding and promoting the basic democratic and human right of free speech and freedom of expression.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) publishes the Campus Freedom Index each year. Founded in 2010, the JCCF’s mission is to “defend the constitutional freedoms of Canadians through litigation and education” and over the past eight years it has published the “Campus Freedom Index” which monitors the state of free speech at Canadian public universities, grading both the universities and their student unions.

Among the universities that earned a failing grade in upholding free speech are Acadia, Dalhousie, Saint Paul, Guelph, Wilfrid Laurier, Waterloo, and the University of Victoria.

Given that four of the seven universities listed above are in Ontario, it is a good thing that the Government of Ontario is now insisting that universities in Ontario defend free expression on campus or be rightly penalized by having portion of their taxpayer funding revoked.

The University of Victoria is also on the fail list, but I cannot see the British Columbia Government issuing a decree similar to the one in Ontario, as Victoria is a ferment of political correctness.

That the B.C. legislature is in Victoria, I can’t see the provincial government using any stick to poke a wasps nest of environmental zealots and gender warriors living in its own backyard.

It is encouraging that no Universities in Alberta are on the fail list and let’s hope that on campuses in this province students and faculty can continue to speak without censure, and that is still permissible to be intellectually agile and shoot from the hip.

Still there should be no complacency regarding protecting free speech in all our institutions but especially in universities, which are meant to be bastions where the free exchange of ideas is encouraged rather than denounced asheresy.

One of the corrective measures used to combat the erosion of free speech in universities is a guidelines known as the “Chicago Principles.”

First put into practice by the University of Chicago in 2014, it was subsequently adopted by other American universities to defend free speech and freedom of expression.

The central tenet of the “Chicago Principles is that a university “is committed to the principle that it may not restrict debate or deliberation because the ideas put forth are thought to be offensive, unwise, immoral or wrong headed. It is for the members of the University community to make those judgments for themselves.”

These are good principles by which to abide, not only within a university but also in any environment. However, it is discouraging that it takes coercion for universities to adopt these very simple principles that should be seen as indispensable in the first place.

In spite of how progressive many of these politically correct positions pretend to be, becoming incensed and throwing a glamour-fit when a divergent opinion is expressed, is stultifying and regressive.

Discouraging debate, disallowing others to express unpopular or opposing opinions, rather than creating enlightenment and accord, it divides people into isolated factions, fosters animosity and promotes ignorance.


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