Thursday, November 8, 2012

Report: Student Unions repress free speech in Canadian Universities

"(I)t is student unions which control the registration, certification and resource allocation processes for student groups.”(from Ryan Leclaire's piece in Study Magazine, November 7, 2012 excerpted below)
Post-mortem's on my teaching career of two-plus decades, from anonymous, anecdotal stories presumably originating from parents of students who attended my English classes in grades eleven, twelve and thirteen, reveal a distaste for 'how far I permitted the discussions to go' their view, "too far"...If there were an issue embedded in a piece of literature which captured the attention of student readers, I saw no reason to "cap" the conversation, except with the time frame of the class period. If students were ever going to become engaged with the printed word, from the best writers the world has been gifted to honour, and if language were ever going to become an integral and useful and nuanced part of the individual lives of the students, then where better to begin that process than in the English classroom.
Free speech depended then on listening carefully to the thoughts, feelings and opinions of their peers, without even entertaining the thought of derision, scorn, contempt or disrespect for the speaker or his/her views. And while there were frequently disagreements, the students were never disagreeable or disrespecful of each other.
I merely referreed and facilitated the sessions, attempting always to be sure the clarity required to rebut and the clarity of the rebuttal meaasured up to the nuanced details of the original statements. Different backgrounds, cultures, socio-economic, religious and ethnic diversity, in a mainly bilingual/bicultural community were represented and respected. Often there were opportunities to inject opinions of literary critics of the historic period, or of the specific writers. Usually there was an exchange of energies that brought issues into focus, and that generated other conversations outside of class among the students.
An adult friend at the time, found taking a sauna in the local "Y" reported on a conversation between two of my students in the same sauna at the same time, about their experience in my classroom.
"Oh, Atkins, he's a communist, everyone knows that!" came the words out of the mouth of one of the adolescents, recorded by my friend, the adult, without the knowledge of the speaker.
It reminds me of the charges in the last few weeks against Obama, "the communist" and "the socialist" and "he speaks in paragraphs" and "there is no comedy in Obama, for the comics to exploit". And the similar epithets that Nixon hurled at Trudeau, 'that pinko commie bastard' from Canada.
And similar epithets hurled at a candidate for an empty pulpit in Nebraska, in the late nineties,"he's a communist and we don't want him here"...
There are many different words to express the kind of repression of full expression, most of them showing disdain for both the speaker and the content of the speech. Even the newspaper accounts are reduced to mere telegrams, when compared with the exhaustive reporting of decades ago.
As Howard Kurtz put it, on CNN's Reliable Sources, "We have all these tech devices that enable more communication, and we are reducing everything to 140 characters and cutting off communication.
Politically correct student unions, hoping for the respect of their professors and administrators must be frustrating those very people with their self-repression.
They are certainly embedded in the culture of their peers, pushing back on the expression of eccentric expression of new ideas, old ideas revisited, and even some less-than-savoury ideas that might cause a little unease in the administrations offices...but isn' that all part of the university experience.
If we are not going to get some rowdy expression, (not drunkenness, or libel or character assassination and bullying like the numerous incidents among secondary students) the vigoous expression of ideas, both formally in debates and informally in "speaker's fora" we are risking the heart-beat energy of our democracy, and we are also failing to educate our students in life issues.
Citizenry includes the capacity, the willingness and the courage to express ideas clearly, carefully and succinctly, in the cause of more debate, better decisions by the body politic and enhanced relations between and among the citizens.
And to accept the capping or truncating of free speech on campus is to emasculate the legitimate educational experience of our students, who will always be more than their professional skills.
By Ryan Leclaire, Study November 7, 2012
Report Claims Free Speech at Canada’s Universities is Abysmal
Freedom of speech is dead on university campuses
You would think college campuses would be the epicenters of free speech. You may picture student activists passing out pamphlets. Or heated debates in lecture halls. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. A new report says free speech on Canada’s university campuses is “abysmal.”
The 2012 Campus Freedom Index was put together by the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. It awarded grades to 35 Canadian universities, based on the state of free speech on campus. Surprisingly, they awarded only 3 grades of A, out of 35 universities.
“When it comes to defending Canada’s valuable heritage of campus free speech, the barbarians are not at the gates. They are inside the walls,” wrote the authors in the report.
“The Index sheds light on the significant role that Canada’s student unions play in damaging the free speech climate on campus. In almost every case that the authors have studied, it is student unions which control the registration, certification and resource allocation processes for student groups.”
The report did hand out its share of Fs. The following schools earned failing grades of F for restricting campus free speech in both their policies and principles, as well as their actions and practices.

■Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA)

■Lakehead University Students’ Union (LUSU)

■Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)

■University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU)

■The University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS)

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