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Will Universities Embrace Freedom, or Censor Ideas?

Sarah Chaffee

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A teacher’s assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada was chastised after she showed a video of two professors from the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson and Nicholas Matte, debating the use of gender-specific pronouns. She was teaching on that subject in a communications class. The university president has offered an apology.

Lindsay Shepherd, the TA in question, was called into a meeting with staff and faculty. She secretly recorded the meeting. She told them, in part:

I don’t see how someone would rationally think it was threatening. I could see how it might challenge their existing ideas. But for me, that’s the spirit of the university, is challenging ideas that you already have.

…The thing is, can you shield people from those ideas? Am I supposed to comfort them and make sure that they are insulated away from this? Like is that what the point of this is? Because to me, that is so against what the university is about, so against it. I was not taking sides, I was presenting both arguments.

You can listen to her recording here.

Does this sound at all familiar? It should. Merely stating that there is a legitimate controversy over evolution is problematic on most university campuses. One student we’re aquainted with, five years into a PhD in an unrelated subject, happened to state to his doctoral committee that he didn’t think survival of the fittest helps much in explaining biological novelties – and immediately his doctorate was in jeopardy.

Lindsay Shepherd is right: You can’t preserve inquiry and the search for truth in universities if you censor controversies in the classroom.

Photo: Sculpture of Wilfrid Laurier, campus of Wilfrid Laurier University, by Laurel L. Russwurm [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.