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Brian Jones: University flirts with embarrassment

A working group at Memorial University has been working since late 2017 to create new guidelines regarding putting up posters on campus.
A working group at Memorial University has been working since late 2017 to create new guidelines regarding putting up posters on campus. — The Telegram

Luckily for administrators at Memorial University, their Campus Enforcement and Patrol (CEP) outfit failed to find the culprit(s) who put up posters last fall blaring, “The Islamic Domination of the West.”

Brian Jones
Brian Jones

 

Luckily for MUN, the anonymous poster person(s) eluded capture. If CEP operatives had been able to nab him — or her, or them — MUN administrators would face a no-win, embarrassing situation.

They could do nothing, and rouse the wrath of self-righteous zealots who mistakenly believe a university campus should be free of all discomfiting ideas with which they disagree, or they could punish the perpetrator(s) — presuming it was a student(s) — and join the ranks of Canadian and American universities that have disgracefully abandoned the notion of free inquiry and freedom of speech.

As The Telegram reported this week, the RNC concluded, predictably, that erection of the widely reviled IDotW poster did not amount to a crime (“Memorial University working on poster guidelines”).

It’s official. The cops say campus free speech can carry on.

But not so fast. The university administration declared it has directed the CEP to keep its eyes peeled for poster plasterers, and a new set of guidelines is being worked on to delineate what kinds of things can and cannot be said at MUN.

Luckily for MUN, the anonymous poster person(s) eluded capture. If CEP operatives had been able to nab him — or her, or them — MUN administrators would face a no-win, embarrassing situation.

The IDotW poster person/people made the mistake of exhibiting Islamophonia — which should not be confused with Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is the fear of being labelled a racist by discussing social and political issues involving Islam.

Islamophonia is the irresistible urge to speak up about social and political issues involving Islam. In some European countries, Islamophones can be charged if they don’t shut up.

This is, however, merely academic. The content of the posters is irrelevant. Whether students, staff or members of the public are offended, disgusted, outraged, shocked or appalled by the message of the IDotW posters is irrelevant. Freedom of speech does not rest on the requirement to not offend others.

When the poster controversy at MUN arose last fall, a few readers asked if I would take the same position about it if the posters were, say, anti-Jewish or anti-Israel. Of course I would, and told them so.

Personally, I’m aghast when I read the hateful, Jewishophobic arguments of the “apartheid state of Israel” crowd, or of their fellow anti-Semitic travellers, the so-called BDS movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel.

But yes, they too should have the right to put posters up at MUN. In fact, they probably have put up such posters, if other Canadian campuses are anything to go by, but such actions don’t make the news or arouse the angry reaction that the IDotW poster did. That might be an ideal topic for a Political Science 101 essay assignment. Perhaps MUN president Gary Kachanoski could be invited to participate.

A few months ago at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., a handful of professors and bureaucrats brought nationwide derision and scorn down upon the school because they did not grasp the basic tenets of free inquiry and freedom of speech when they harangued a graduate teaching assistant over the content of one of her seminars. How someone obtains a PhD without having even a rudimentary understanding of these essential concepts is a mystery, but such is the state of 21st-century academia.

MUN’s poster controversy puts it in the same camp as Wilfrid Laurier U. If the impending poster guidelines insist on creating and keeping a “safe” learning environment — i.e., one in which students won’t have their sensibilities or preconceptions challenged or questioned — MUN administrators will deserve the same contempt as was directed at Wilfred Laurier U.

A tip for the MUN bosses: don’t instruct the CEP to look too hard. If they find the poster culprit(s), the university could cause even more embarrassment for itself.

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

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