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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

David M. Haskell: Revisiting the free speech debate on campus

...Currently, the administration at the University of Toronto is deciding how to deal with a controversial professor, Jordan Peterson. Via media interviews and self-produced YouTube videos, Peterson has gone public with his concern that ideology is trumping factual evidence in academia; he contends that when certain facts offend the sensibilities of historically marginalized groups, the facts are required to “change” or be suppressed.

While his observations and arguments about the state of university culture are numerous and nuanced, what has generated the most media attention, and the most outrage from some groups on his own campus, is his public declaration that he will not use genderless pronouns — such as “they” — if asked to do so by a student who does not identify as “he” or “she.”

Last Wednesday, the U of T students’ union sent an open letter to administration demanding they wring an apology from Peterson and get him to remove his lectures from YouTube. Administrators were also told that in the future they must defend students against “prejudiced” comments from tenured professors.

It is my hope that U of T administration has the good sense to ignore these demands. Not because Peterson is right (I reserve judgment there) but because stifling free expression is wrong and it is heinously wrong when a university — a place supposedly dedicated to the free exchange of ideas — is the arbiter of that oppression.

Beyond the fact that freedom of expression is the key defence against totalitarianism, there is another reason U of T administrators should allow Peterson to continue unabated. Simply put, it is better for the students who are protesting.

University, at its best, tries to create opportunities to stretch students’ intellectual abilities. Here is such an opportunity and it has arisen organically. If Peterson is wrong, let these protesting students mount an intellectual offensive that is factually superior to his. It is intellectually lazy and worse, cowardly, to ask the administration to do their “homework” for them...

The University of Toronto has responded and the Administration's decision is cowardly and despicable. Abandoning any pretense at being a place that values free speech or genuine intellectual inquiry, it has decided to muzzle Jordan Peterson and deprive him of the right to express himself in a way he thinks is logical and appropriate.  

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