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Brian Jones: University’s reaction to posters was cowardly


An open letter to Gary Kachanoski, president of Memorial University: Dear Mr. Kachanoski, As an alumnus of Memorial University, I was disappointed to see the disregard you have for the important principle of freedom of speech.

Brian Jones

Being the leader of a post-secondary institution, you can’t possibly need reminding that universities have developed over the centuries as centres of thought, learning, ideas, discussion and debate, fearing neither church nor state nor mob.

And yet, someone puts up posters on your campus that are deemed offensive, and you tear them down and order Campus Enforcement and Patrol staff to find the perpetrators.

You have joined the ranks of administrations at numerous other North American campuses where freedom of speech is stifled and restrained, and replaced with excuses of why it cannot be exercised.

Please ponder the message your actions sent to students. Rather than teach them that freedom of speech is an inherent right in a free society, you taught them that it can be rescinded on a whim by authority.

Your students need to know freedom of speech is not easy. It may be an inalienable right — not to be infringed upon by church or state or mob — but exercising it is not easy, hearing it is not easy and protecting it is not easy.

Freedom of speech is often offensive, and occasionally it is ugly. Others may choose to argue with speakers or ignore them, as they see fit. But shutting them up, especially on a university campus, is authoritarian.

The posters that were removed last weekend at Memorial University were headlined, “The Islamic domination of the West.” The poster was inarguably inflammatory, and undoubtedly prompted reactions of anger and disgust.

Your administration apparently believes inflammatory speech is grounds for censorship.

This attitude is a betrayal of centuries of tradition at universities in the Western world, where scholars have resisted and fought against cries of “Heresy!” from the church and accusations of “Treason!” from the state.

In the modern world, the mob also demands the stifling of freedom of speech.

Do not succumb to the temptation to shut down any discussion of Islam, terrorism, immigration and related topics because a mob screams “Islamophobia!”

A university campus, of all places, should allow for unrestrained speech about any and all topics.

A campus administration, and its faculty, should teach students that some information they come across in their studies and in their life may be disturbing.

Unfortunately, your act of censorship has become common on campuses, with administrators lamely explaining that students must be kept “safe” and must have no cause for “fear.” Good God! Are today’s students such cowards that they have to be shielded from opinions that are unpopular?

In Canada, university administrators can resort to the “hate speech” excuse, ignoring their responsibility to instead be a bastion against state censorship of any speech, “hateful” or otherwise.

My other alma mater, the University of Calgary, had a small space dubbed Speaker’s Corner, with a low platform on which a person could stand. Anyone could get up and talk about any subject. Passersby could stop and listen, or not. That was in the 1970s. I don’t know if it is still there.

I wasn’t aware of a similar space at Memorial University when I attended two decades ago. If there is one now, and a student or faculty member got up and espoused the ideas expressed on the poster that you removed, would you order the campus cops to haul him/her away in handcuffs? That is the equivalent of what you did by taking down the posters.

Regards,

Brian Jones

B.Ed. (1995)

 

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com.

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