Freedom of Expression at UBC

NB: UBC has recently released a draft freedom of expression statement and requested feedback on it. I was privileged to be on the committee that helped draft the statement. I learned much from the experience. In lieu of commenting upon the draft, I offer instead a statement as I might have written one. What I learned from colleagues on the committee informs my statement below, but I would not suggest  that any of them would endorse it.

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Recent events, especially in the United States of America (for example, at the University of Virginia and at the University of Florida), have triggered much discussion of the proper protections for free speech on university campuses. A number of US universities, notably Berkeley and Chicago, have issued statements expressing their commitments to the protection of free speech on campus. Free speech issues also exist in Canada and have been brought to recent prominence not only due to our proximity to the US but also due to events at Canadian universities (for example, Dalhousie and University of Toronto)–and due to larger Canadian issues such as the truth and reconciliation project between settler Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

In matters of freedom of expression, the Canadian context is emphatically not the US context. While freedom of expression is one of the “fundamental freedoms” guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is not granted extraordinary or pre-eminent status in the Charter. All the fundamental freedoms (which include freedom of religion, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of the press) are granted equivalent status with various other sorts of rights, including democratic, mobility, legal, and equality rights. The relation of the Charter to public Canadian universities is a complex matter, but it would be fair to say that Canadian universities do and ought to subscribe to Charter values. Another crucial difference between the Canadian and US contexts is that Canada itself and the Canadian provinces and territories have hate speech laws. That is, as both a legal and a cultural matter, freedom of speech in Canada is different from freedom of speech in the United States.

Freedom of expression requires special consideration within university communities. The value and nature of freedom of expression within any community depends on that community’s goals–and the primary goals of a university community are the production, communication, and preservation of knowledge. Responsible expression within our communities is directed toward these goals. Thus, a university should reject any conception of freedom of expression that claims such freedom amounts to the freedom strongly to express one’s already-formed opinions. The free expression of already-formed opinions is one starting point for academic discussions but it must not be the general form of those discussions. The already-formed opinions of the members of the scholarly community are precisely what freedom of expression is meant to challenge and what a free exchange of ideas is meant to supplant with more well-supported and well-argued knowledge claims. Demanding your right to proclaim your already-formed opinions, accordingly, is a misunderstanding of the role of speech and of argument in the production and transfer of knowledge. It is not what freedom of expression is or should be at universities.

The equality rights in the Charter, the hate speech laws of various Canadian jurisdictions, and various policies such as the UBC Respectful Environment Statement acquire particular importance in the university context. When a person is admitted as a student to a university or is hired as a faculty or staff member, that person is admitted into the scholarly community that forms the institution. The university has already decided that that individual has the right to speak in the critical discussion that we take on as a necessary part of our mission. The fitness of those admitted to our community to join that discussion is no longer an open question. Speech that calls that right into question by denigrating the religious beliefs, the ethnic or national identity, the sexual orientation, the gender expression, and so on of some community members is speech that performs discrimination, exclusion, and marginalization. It is speech that renders some members of our community unable fully to speak by denying that they are worth listening to. That disabling of certain speakers must not be tolerated; it is itself antithetical to the proper goals of freedom of expression within our community.

This is not an argument for banning abhorrent speech; it is an argument for upholding the norms of the constitution of our academic communities, substantive norms we have chosen because they are necessary if we are to reach our academic goals. It is an argument that hate speech harms the very practices that universities are charged to engage in. It is an argument that speech partially constitutes our social relations and must be engaged in responsibly.  UBC has noted this in its Respectful Environment Statement:

“Freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry must be exercised responsibly, in ways that recognize and respect the dignity of others, having careful regard to the dynamics of different relationships within the university environment, such as between professor and student, or supervisor and employee.”

Those who wish to use their freedom of expression simply to repeat their already-formed opinions will find many outlets for so doing. But those who wish to engage with us at UBC, should come to speak, to listen, genuinely to discuss and argue about topics currently under discussion within our community. If they are unwilling to do these things, then we and they must recognize that they seek in the university not an audience but a platform, that they come not to enter our community of inquiry but to disrupt it. They have the right to try to disrupt our community; we have the right to uphold it. And we will uphold it.

At UBC we have a special resource to help us understand and further the free expression that is necessary for our pursuit of knowledge. Our campuses are on traditional, ancestral, and unceded Aboriginal territory. The First Nations that are our hosts have their own practices of free expression and truth telling. As we move toward truth and reconciliation, toward decolonization, we have much to learn from First Nations communities about how to structure our community and how to discover and communicate significant knowledge.

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Open Letter to the UBC Chancellor Reappointment Committee

Open Letter to the UBC Chancellor Reappointment Committee

We now (3:30 pm, 24 April) have 110 signatories to this letter.  This is the version of the letter I have submitted to the committee.  You can still indicate support for the letter in the comments section but it is more crucial now to direct remarks to the committee. See the link below.—AR

Open Letter to the UBC Chancellor Reappointment Committee

“There is no investment that is more critical to the university than our investment in the faculty. Our standing as a research university and our attractiveness as a destination for the best and brightest students all rest with the quality of our faculty.” – President Santa J. Ono

Dear Committee:

Thank you for your service to UBC.  While it is true that the reappointment of a one-term Chancellor is consistent with the BC University Act, it is disheartening that Lindsay Gordon is being considered for reappointment.  Gordon was deeply immersed in all the activities that led the UBC faculty to vote overwhelmingly that they had no confidence in the Board of Governors.  The faculty also voted overwhelmingly that the Presidential search should be suspended and that Gordon himself should resign from the committee.  (These votes all had unprecedentedly high turnout; these issues galvanized the faculty.) The Chancellor and the Board ignored these messages.  President Ono has said, and it is true, that the faculty and the students are what make UBC a great university.  It is time the Board and the Chancellor attended to faculty opinion.  It is time for a new Chancellor.

Chancellor Gordon was one of the “gang” (current Board chair Stuart Belkin’s term) that held secret meetings that led to President Gupta’s resignation.  When the Faculty Association sought via a FIPPA request to see the Chancellor’s email, they were told there were no emails—only to discover that the Chancellor had been part of various email chains leading to Gupta’s resignation.  Gordon is also mentioned explicitly as one of the people who mishandled the Berdahl case, leading to the institutional failure to protect her academic freedom.  As Justice Smith points out in her Report on this case, then Board Chair Montalbano, Chancellor Gordon, and unnamed staff, without bringing in central academic administrators, tried to manage the response to Gupta’s resignation and failed miserably in the attempt.  In themselves, these actions should have led to the Chancellor’s resignation. Instead, the Chancellor has stayed on but has offered no account to the faculty regarding his actions.

We remind the Committee that UBC faculty are members of Convocation and that the Chancellor is the chair of Convocation.  The chief business of Convocation is the conferring of UBC degrees.  UBC faculty do the instruction and assessment relevant to the conferring of such degrees. Alumni UBC, acting on behalf of Convocation in the matter of choosing a Chancellor, should not ignore the faculty’s warranted distrust of Lindsay Gordon. In the interests of turning the page and moving to an era of more open governance, we urge you not to reappoint Lindsay Gordon as Chancellor.

Sincerely,

Alan Richardson (Philosophy)
Doris J. Doudet (Medicine/Neurology)
Peter Wylie (Economics, Philosophy, Political Science, UBCO)
James Colliander (Mathematics)
Alan Mackworth (Computer Science)
[Name Redacted for Internet Version] (Computer Science)
Judy Segal (English)
Stephen Guy-Bray (English)
Anthony Paré (Language and Literacy Education)
Nassif Ghoussoub (Mathematics)
Adam Frank (English)
Carrie Jenkins (Philosophy)
Scott MacKenzie (English)
Carla Nappi (History)
Mark Vessey (English/Green College)
Michael Zeitlin (English)
Tom Kemple (Sociology)
Juliet Ó Brien (FHIS)
Katja Thieme (English/ASRW/Vantage)
Barbara Dancygier (English)
Miguel Mota (English)
Jonathan Ichikawa (Philosophy)
Moberley Luger (English/CAP)
Jennifer Berdahl (Sauder)
Jessica Wang (History)
Stephen Petrina (Curriculum and Pedagogy)
Andrew Rechnitzer (Mathematics)
Young-Heon Kim (Mathematics)
Martin Barlow (Mathematics)
Michael Ward (Mathematics)
Edwin Perkins (Mathematics)
Brian McElroy (Theatre and Film)
David Poole (Computer Science)
Omer Angel (Mathematics)
Steph van Willigenburg (Mathematics)
Patricia Badir (English)
Bruce Rusk (Asian Studies)
David Kirkpatrick (Computer Science)
Stefan Dollinger (English)
Eric Cyrtrynbaum (Mathematics)
Vin Nardizzi (English)
Mercedes Fernandez-Duran (Critical Studies, UBCO)
Liz Hodgson (English)
Cristina Conati (Computer Science)
Christoph Hauert (Mathematics)
Greg Martin (Mathematics)
Geoffrey Winthrop-Young (CENES)
Ian Hill (English)
Amy Metcalfe (Educational Studies)
Mary Ann S. Saunders (English/ASRW)
Gordon Semenoff (Physics and Astronomy)
Rabab Ward (Electrical and Computer Engineering)
Deanna Kreisel (English)
Sam Rocha (Educational Studies)
Coll Thrush (History)
Gordon Slade (Mathematics)
E. Wayne Ross (Curriculum and Pedagogy)
William Unruh (Physics and Astronomy)
Sandra Mathison (Education/ECPS)
Carl Leggo (Language and Literacy Education)
Tai-Peng Tsai (Mathematics)
Matias Salibian-Barrera (Statistics)
Felix J. Herrmann (EOAS)
Dianne Newell (History)
Joy Butler (Curriculum & Pedagogy)
Siân Echard (English)
Richard Froese (Mathematics)
Harry Joe (Statistics)
Dong Li (Mathematics)
Janis McKenna (Physics and Astronomy)
Leah Keshet (Mathematics)
Sujatha Ramdorai (Mathematics)
Liisa Galea (Psychology)
Tina Loo (History)
Vinayak Vatsal (Mathematics)
Jon Beasley-Murray (FHIS)
Christopher Stephens (Philosophy)
Steven Taubeneck (CENES/Philosophy)
Sylvia Berryman (Philosophy)
Shaylih Muehlmann (Anthropology)
Sue Rowley (Anthropology/MOA)
Laurie McNeill (English/CAP)
Margot Young (Law)
Priscilla Greenwood (Mathematics)
Ruben Zamar (Statistics)
Joanna Karczmarek (Physics and Astronomy)
Holger H. Hoos (Computer Science)
Susanna Braund (CNERS)
Jingyi Chen (Mathematics)
Michael MacEntee (Dentistry)
Kai Behrend (Mathematics)
Juncheng Wei (Mathematics)
Michael Doebeli (Zoology)
Jozsef Solymosi (Mathematics)
Ozgur Yilmaz (Mathematics)
Wayne Nagata (Mathematics)
Jehannine Austin (Medical Genetics)
Albert Chau (Mathematics)
Martin Schulz (Sauder)
R.G. Matson (Anthropology)
Gunnar Ólafur Hansson (Linguistics)
Kalle Karu (Mathematics)
Christopher Rea (Asian Studies)
William Welch (Statistics)
Stephen Gustafson (Mathematics)
Anthony Peirce (Mathematics)
Bonny Norton (Language and Literacy Education)
Richard Anstee (Mathematics)
Jennifer Gustar (Critical Studies, UBCO)
Dan Coombs (Mathematics)

The Latest Attack on Academic Freedom in Canada: McGill Turns Away from Controversy and Provocation

 

“While the Institute itself is non-partisan, MISC is no stranger to debate and controversy.”—https://mcgill.ca/misc/about

“It is not a role to provoke, but to promote good discussion.”—McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier as quoted in The Globe and Mail

 

McGill University Principal Suzanne Fortier has spoken out in defense of her actions in accepting the resignation of Andrew Potter from his post as Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC). She emphasizes on the responsibility of the leaders of academic units to represent those units. In particular, she maintains that the Institute must be non-partisan. However, she finds that in writing the Maclean’s article as director of the Institute Potter violated non-partisanship and, thus, poorly represented the Institute. His op-ed was, she claims, provocative and would lead political leaders not to wish to come to Institute events. She also claims that the scholarship was shoddy and as Institute Director Potter had to avoid such shoddy work.

 

Here are some facts upon which we can agree. Potter wrote the Maclean’s essay while the Director of MISC.  He is also identified as the Director of MISC on the webpage of the article.  Let us suppose that this means he wrote is as the Director of the Institute.[1] Let’s also agree that the essay was shoddy—he had already apologized for it and retracted a portion of it before he resigned.[2]

 

Here is another fact: Potter wrote several other pieces for the popular press in which he criticized some political points of view and was identified as the Director of the Institute.[3] For example, in an essay he wrote in January in the Ottawa Citizen he  says things about Trump and Stephen Harper[4] that Harper’s supporters would surely find misleading (if unsurprising). He also likens the entire American political scene to “two troops of apes shrieking at one another across a great partisan divide.” Before Potter gets to American politics, he says something absurd about humanities disciplines and truth.[5]  The piece is a shoddy op-ed by any reasonable standard. There were no calls for Potter to resign after having written that essay, and he did not.

 

So, it took more than writing an op-ed exhibiting poor scholarship and taking a partisan stand for Potter to resign.  It took an essay with poor scholarship that took a partisan stand and that offended the powers that be in Quebec. Only after the appearance of such an op-ed did Fortier decide that Potter had misbehaved in office.

 

Here’s the problem: in so defending “non-partisanship” in light of the actual record of Potter’s popular writings as Director, Fortier is committed to this: the Institute Director may criticize some political viewpoints (for example, Harper and the whole of American politics) in op-eds while he may not so criticize other viewpoints. That is, in an effort to defend non-partisanship, Fortier has made the Institute partisan.  The whole point of academic freedom is to defend academics’ rights to criticize any and every point of view.  Only by insisting that all views may be criticized can the Institute make a credible case that it is non-partisan and has academic integrity.

 

Fortier has made an enormous misstep. The Institute now occupies a position in the political order and can no longer criticize positions in that order from anything other than a recognizably partisan point of view. The academic integrity of the Institute has been undermined.[6] There simply is no academic integrity available for any academic researcher (particularly those of us who wish to speak publicly about any aspect of the social or political order) unless we are granted unfettered academic freedom to criticize any position.

 

It is unclear that Fortier wants the Institute to have academic integrity. She seems to think it should be a place where the great and the good of Quebec  and Canada gather for a comfortable chat. This might well keep the funding gates open at McGill but at the cost of removing McGill from the critical role of a university in society.

 

[1] I don’t think that is an obvious conclusion, actually. I have been identified in various ways in essays I have written; not all of those ways specify the social role I was occupying in writing the essay.  But this is not my concern today.

[2] Just what the scholarly standards are for an op-ed in a popular newspaper are, even when those op-eds are written by academics is, of course, unclear.

[3] Several of these are linked to the MISC website.

[4] “Scientists have developed an annoying habit of pointing out the connection between the activities of a modern economy and the heating up of the planet, while social planners like to make use of stuff such as demographic data to suggest social policy. That’s why Donald Trump, like Stephen Harper before him, is muzzling the scientists and statisticians.”

[5] “For the better part of the past 30 years, the received view in most humanities departments has been that truth is at best the handmaiden of capitalism, at worst the whore of patriarchy. Either way, all a commitment to truth ever gave us was inequality, environmental destruction and the atomic bomb. To argue otherwise is to reveal yourself as a fascist or – perhaps worse – a liberal.”

[6] Moreover, as a matter of public discourse and as a practical matter at McGill, the directorship question is a red herring. This can be seen by the fact that Potter did not merely resign the directorship; he resigned from the Institute entirely.  The Institute has been insulated from his criticisms of Quebec society.

 

 

 


The Fall of the Faculty: A Case Study of University Governance at UBC

Piece of Mind

This post expands on a talk I gave at a Conference on University Governance in the 21st century, which was held in Vancouver on March 3-4. My session was concerned with: Duty to Whom? Institutional Loyalty and Collegial Governance, which will be the subject of my next post. In this first part, I show how university governance as practiced at UBC is used to marginalize the faculty. Almost a year has passed since 800 faculty members at UBC voted non-confidence in the actions of the Board of Governors. Reforms, promised then by the Chair of the Board, Stuart Belkin, are yet to be announced, let alone implemented. The Board secretariat remains unchanged, its controversial shadowy ways intact, resisting and stalling FOI requests by the Faculty Association and others. The Chancellor is still in place, unmoved by a humiliating vote of non-confidence in his chairing of the presidential search committee…

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Salient points of Daniel Heath Justice’s letter of resignation from the UBC Sexual Assault Policy Committee in response to Furlong’s reinstatement

Dear Professor Ono,

I read with dismay the announcement yesterday that John Furlong has been reinstated as a UBC fundraising speaker. … There were many responsible and compassionate ways this matter might have been handled that would not have once again silenced or erased the abuse allegations of dozens of people from the Lake Babine First Nation — some of whom I understand have contacted your office and have received no response — but the result of UBC’s press releases has been to do precisely that, and to once again undermine the hard work that so many of us have undertaken at this university to do ethical, accountable work in relationship with Indigenous communities.

Given these events, I am sad to say that I cannot continue to serve with integrity on the UBC Sexual Assault Policy Committee. It is impossible to do so given that the Committee’s good work has been so deliberately and significantly survivor-centred; this reversal undermines the credibility of that process and further alienates a broader community that is already deeply concerned with the University’s handling of these matters. This saddens me for two reasons: first, it means that no one on any of the sexual assault policy work is Indigenous, which is a significant gap considering that our community is statistically far more likely to experience sexual, gender-based, and racialized violence than any others in Canada, and second, it means stepping away from a group whose members have demonstrated incredible commitment over the last year and who, I believe, have undertaken deeply meaningful labour in the face of growing and demoralizing skepticism within and beyond the institution. I regret that my departure may create difficulties for them and their efforts, but after consultation with members of my community and significant reflection, my priority must be to support under-represented Indigenous voices on these matters, and I believe that a viable and legitimate survivor-centred approach to sexual assault cannot stand with integrity alongside this deeply troubling decision. At least not for me.

… I hope you will give the remaining Committee members every possible level of support to make the meaningful change that we so desperately require at UBC on issues around sexual, gender-based, and racialized violence — especially for Indigenous peoples on our campus…and in our province. It will take a great deal of effort to undo the damage of this decision.

Sincerely,

Daniel Heath Justice

Daniel Heath Justice is Chair, First Nations and Indigenous Studies (FNIS) at UBC, Professor, FNIS and English, and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture

Shaking up the UBC Board of Governors

Piece of Mind

Month after month of bad press in local and national media outlets didn’t do it. Petition after petition asking for transparency and accountability from the governors and the managerial class didn’t do it. Eight hundred faculty members voting non-confidence in the Board of Governors didn’t do it. And the jury is still out on whether even a new president with a reportedly rock star status and a de-facto strengthened mandate can do it. But we still see one glitter of hope for our university.

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Demanding Due Process at UBC: Beyond Social Media Wars in the Galloway Case

As an outsider, I find it depressing to see the Canadian Literature community tear itself apart over the open letter on the Galloway case rather than using the letter to come together over their evident common desire. (The letter is here; a response letter by Lawrence Hill is here; there are many other responses.)  I understand that the original open letter could be much better.  It is possible to read it as suggesting that the evidence of lack of due process comes from the result or that justice is due only to Galloway.  It is regrettable that the letter has caused additional pain for people in the UBC Creative Writing Department and strife for that Department. 

For all its faults, the letter does call for due process.  Everyone in the CanLit community and everyone at UBC has an interest in knowing that due process was in fact followed in this—as in any—case involving allegations of misconduct and the eventual firing of personnel.  In this case, many people, whether they speak on behalf of the complainants or on behalf of Galloway, have suggested due process was not followed.

Now we are seeing a social media war within the CanLit community.  Meanwhile, UBC itself sits on the sidelines and watches that community inflict damage upon itself.  Marsha Lederman’s reporting has quoted from a four-paragraph statement from VP External Affairs Philip Steenkamp on UBC’s handling of the case.  I have seen that statement only as screen shot attached to a tweet from a local reporter; as far as I can tell, it has not been sent to any faculty or students at UBC.  Why is UBC again talking to the press but not to its own academic community?

The issues here, as has become depressingly common at UBC, are these:  We don’t know what level or nature of allegations trigger an investigation at UBC; we don’t know how processes of evidence gathering are set up in those investigations; we don’t know what standards of evidence are followed.  In the case of Galloway, we don’t know what the original allegations brought to UBC’s attention were or what the findings of the investigation were; thus, we don’t know what findings triggered the decision to fire Galloway; we don’t know why those findings warranted firing for “breach of trust.”  That’s a partial list of the known unknowns.

UBC claims not to be able to provide any of this information due to “confidentiality” concerns.  It is not at all clear that the reasons for firing of an individual for “breach of trust” at a public institution are not in the public interest to know.  (Steenkamp’s statement seems to admit that it is in the public interest.) Thus, it is not at all clear that, under the BC Privacy Act, confidentiality pertains in this case at all.  In any case, “confidentiality” seems at UBC a euphemism for “secrecy.”  If UBC doesn’t figure out a much more robust and compelling internal as well as external communications strategy, it is going to leave more and more communities—at UBC and beyond its walls—in tatters.

Meanwhile, CanLit community, can you do everyone at UBC a favour?  Can you have a ceasefire in your social media war for long enough to agree that the reason you are fighting is that no one knows why UBC took the actions it did and in the absence of such knowledge no one has any reason to trust the process that led to those actions? Reports from witnesses and complainants give us more reason not to trust that process—which itself seems to have caused additional harm.

I’d like to do more than believe survivors.  I’d like to help survivors and to help prevent actions that would lead to more people becoming survivors.  As a faculty member at UBC, I have no take-home lessons I can use in the Galloway case.  I have no idea what actions UBC finds to be a breach of trust; I have no idea what UBC even thinks happened.  I cannot do my job better because of UBC’s handling of this case.  I can, however, do my job worse: I can (from fear of processes I don’t understand and due to concerns about ripping apart my own community of scholars) withdraw into my office, look the other way, shrug my shoulders, try to stay out of harm’s way.  Keeping my head down easy for me—another one of those privileged middle-aged white men with tenure—and much, much harder for those who really do need institutional protection and justice.