Note that the following feedback statements have not been altered, and spelling and grammar errors have not been corrected.
This is an excellent statement; surely an academic community can accept it. It would benefit from a declaration of intent to protect the rights of persons speaking within that broad framework. Physical attacks, or attempts to shout down persons expressing points of view or describing research results, are intolerable in an academic community.
I think that Laurier really cares about justice, fairness and open inquiry. I see it every day as a staff. I am proud to work here. I think the perceived necessity for this statement is a response to media escalations and alt-right provocation. The vast majority of students, faculty and alumni are not concerned with free speech issues on campus. They can see that Laurier is doing good work to build community without repressing divergent voices, and they are focused on doing the same in their lives and careers. The LS incident was an incident of pedagogy that got co-opted - a mishandled academic situation that the media and alt-right voices escalated, which created a dark, negative and disturbing environment on campus. I am sure that many in our community have genuine concerns about free speech, and their concerns are valid. And, I think, in the bigger picture, Laurier should not devote too many resources to this particular issue. It's a distraction from the reality of big political injustices that are happening in our world to oppress the powerless (leading to more civil unrest and environmental damage), as well as real ways we can be working on our campuses and in our communities to effect change to the benefit of all members of our society. To some extent, I believe the alt-right community, along with the media (who enjoy a good fight) uses these sorts of things to churn people up and distract them or take away their time from doing the good work of building a fully just community. As a person on the left, I know I personally spend too much time reacting angrily rather than just doing good work. That's something I am working to change. I think there is a way that people on all sides of the political spectrum can work together to achieve a good life for everyone in our culture, if we can avoid getting too distracted by arguing over definitions of free speech, and instead genuinely look for ways to speak that bring out the good and just and useful. This is a good statement, in that it's the best it can be to avoid further escalation. My thanks to those who worked on it, even if I think we didn't need it in the first place, you still put time and thought and care into it, and that is the Laurier way. Post it, move on, get back to spending time on what Laurier does so well: care about students, research new and helpful ideas, and generate effective social programming in a supportive and respectful environment.
I appreciate the commitment to freedom of expression in the draft document. What I think needs further consideration is how it relates to the space booking policy recently announced, which states "event organizers will be responsible for all additional costs for security, safety and related items over and above the regular resources available on campus. Allocation of additional event costs was previously applied on a discretionary basis; as of May 2, 2018, all additional costs will be consistently charged to the sponsor club, department or faculty member." This is a complex issue. In the interest of trying to encourage discussion and debate, the university community should strive to invite speakers who will be thoughtful and respectful and not try to inflame. On the other hand, if people who disagree with a speaker resort to creating disruptions in order to prevent the talk from happening, then this could result in "security" costs that amount to what has been called a "heckler's veto". Consider the effect is this applies in the classroom as well. Is a faculty member liable for "security" costs when bringing in a guest speaker, or even when discussing a controversial topic? If so, it encourages anyone with any point of view to threaten a protest to prevent the discussion happening. Especially if this happens within the classroom, this makes the university's commitment to free speech largely irrelevant. There must be a code of conduct which applies to members of the university community regarding what forms of expression of disagreement are appropriate, with sanctions which will be applied for violations. The Golden Rule applies here: we should grant anyone with whom we disagree the same respect we would expect them to grant us. Anything which we would consider inappropriate if directed against us we should avoid directing against anyone else.
Paragraph 1: "They are vital to the creation of knowledge, to societal progress, and to challenging the improper use of power". I suggest this line is removed. How do you define "improper" use of power? This is vague and unclear. "Improper" would be purely based on perspective. People have different perspectives.
Paragraph 2: The draft is already starting to sound repetitive. It reads like a number of people came up with similar statements and rather than articulating one point succinctly, all the points were left unchanged and strung together.
Paragraph 2: The word "wrong-headed" sounds obscure, why not simply use the word misguided. That said, in the same context, I think the sentence should end at "extreme" as misguided could be based on a perspective and opinion.
Paragraph 5: "Some challenging cases of free expression will have to be navigated on the basis of their complexities. " - I suggest there be a clear definition of 'navigated' so that if/when issues arise, there is a step by step consistent approach to resolving them.
Paragraph 6: "Laurier reserves the right to reasonably manage the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of its community, or impinge upon the physical safety of its members. " - Similar to my previous comment, I think there needs to be a clear, consistent, step by step approach to ensure each situation is handled the same, otherwise this reservation could be used as a form of censorship.
Paragraph 7: "Laurier’s members ought to aspire" - Seems vague and unclear.
Paragraph 8: "Rather than attempting to silence speech, Laurier community members are encouraged to articulate dissenting views in meaningful ways through, for example, participating in debate, expressing opposition by hosting alternative events, inviting speakers to express opposing views, and/or engaging in non-violent protests." - Will there be any protections granted for people hosting events so said events are not silenced or shutdown - IE a fire alarm being pulled. It should be stated how views will be protected and allowed to debate, without being / fear of being shut down.
Paragraph 9: " Inside the classroom, the primary focus is the delivery of course content, which must be aligned with the fundamental principles of academic freedom as articulated in the university’s faculty collective agreements. " - What if a student has a viewpoint different than what is aligned with the fundamental principles?
Final thought, it seems like this document talks in circles, contradict itself and leaves room for interpretation. While I think the spirit of the document is good, I think this requires a lot of work and more critical thinking.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on a proposed statement that will be a foundational piece for the effective functioning of the university. Understandably there are many suggestions that can be made, and have been made, to refine the document. I would like to offer two suggestions. First, regarding lines 29-31: “These disagreements reflect the profound differences of opinion among scholars, legislators, the judiciary, journalists, and members of the public regarding the tension between free expression and other fundamental values and principles.” I suggest adding students to the list of groups mentioned. Second, one of the fundamental objectives of a university is to stimulate critical thinking in members of its community. Unfortunately, critical thinking is too often directed only at those with whom we disagree. I suggest that the university needs to also stimulate self-critical thinking. Honest and critical self-reflection can help reduce arrogance, instil humility, and open parties to constructive dialogue. With that in mind, I suggest adding the element of self-critical thinking to the sentence spanning lines 50-53 so that it reads something like: “As an institution of higher learning, Laurier strives to instil within its community members the ability to think critically about issues and the opinions they choose to adopt, express ideas clearly, and articulate positions in a respectful and persuasive manner.” Mirko Petricevic Director of Communications and Public Affairs Waterloo Lutheran Seminary Federated with Wilfrid Laurier University
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