Sunday, November 23, 2008

Universities and Freedom of Expression

Have the censorship-prone, politically-correct taken over our universities?

In February, the York University Federation of Students denied their fellow students space for a debate on abortion. The issue quickly became the right to express one's views. The students federation denied the pro-life students the enjoyment of that freedom.

The justification for censorship was that the subject matter might "upset, appall or traumatize sensitive" students. Surprised and intimidated by media coverage, the federation reversed itself. A friendly debate ensued, with no reports of anyone rendered upset, appalled or traumatized.

To its credit, the University of Waterloo held the same debate without incident.

About the same time, McMaster University administration cancelled a proposed Israeli Apartheid Week. Curiously enough, the same York Federation that initially banned a debate on abortion, objected to McMaster's suppression of free speech.

In 2007, pro-life students were denied official recognition by British Columbia's Capilano College, Kelowna College, and University of Victoria, as were similar groups at Newfoundland's Memorial University, Lakehead University, and Carlton University.

Carlton's student council dropped its support for the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Fund when it learned that  cystic fibrosis was a white man's disease. It was therefore unworthy of support as not being sufficiently inclusive. Does that mean these students will never support the fight against sickle cell anemia which only afflicts black people? To their credit, the council reversed its position, but the concern over misguided political correctness continues.

Some students, and not a few interloping gay activists, at Ryerson University protested, less than peacefully, at the granting of an honorary degree to Margaret Somerville. The ethicist from McGill University is an advocate of the traditional family, something certain activists oppose.

In an edict smacking of vigilantism, officials at the University of Calgary will cancel your debate, talk, presentation, whatever, should they fear the slightest possibility of violence. That's tantamount to censorship by threat of violence. Does the university cancel raucous debate over student fee increases?

Queen's University joined this parade to oblivion by creating an "Intergroup Dialogue Program." This initiative pays students to roam the corridors of academe seeking out the private expression of opinions officialdom deems offensive, and substitute in their place the politically correct version.

The common media condemned this version of censorship, but not that related to abortion. Is this yet another example of selective reporting in order to impose on the general public another's view of the world?

What is it with certain young people, merely a few years out of high school, that they feel competent to judge opinions, withhold the right to express them, and replace them with their own? Let us hope we are not talking about future activist supreme court judges, or biased media editors, whom we already have in over-abundance.


Stephen said...

The Hart House Debating Club at U of T has a specific rule against debating abortion (also one against debating the Nazis and smoking).

Their reason isn't censorship -- it's that in their experience, debate on this topic touches people too deeply, and results in people leaving the club with hurt feelings.

At this York University debate, once it had had all this publicity, the participants and audience were no longer there just to have a debate on the issue of abortion. They were there to demonstrate publicly that it was possible to have such a debate without people getting traumatized. Observer's paradox. It's quite reasonable to believe the debate may have gone badly had it been allowed to proceed without the media storm.

Raymond Peringer said...

I hope its something more serious that hurt feelings that would motivate such behaviour. Whatever the reason, it is censorship which, on occasion is justified. But not here. The Hart House Debating Club gave Henry Morgantaler a publicity springboard,in the days when he needed publicity.

Do these people really believe thatdebating smoking may hurt feelings?

As for Nazis, the more debate we have, the more they can be shown as a pack of uneducated jackals.