By Chris Wattie, National Post
A Canadian university cancelled a debate on racial diversity between the head of its BLACK studies program and an American “racial nationalist,” for fear that the topic would be too controversial .
But the cancellation of the debate raised concerns about academic freedom, with the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers arguing that it sends the wrong message to call off the debate at Dalhousie University between Professor David Divine and Jared Taylor, of American Renaissance magazine, on the topic of “Racial Diversity: North America’s Strength or Weakness?”
“The way you deal with speech some may find objectionable or even abhorrent is not with silence,” said James Turk. “It’s with more speech—with criticism and debate.
“We’re always concerned when a university shuts down debate like this, especially around controversial subjects.”
Officials of the Halifax (Nova Scotia) university cited “the controversy surrounding the issue” in deciding to cancel the event, which was to be held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The university said in a statement that while “the topic is an important one … the university has learned more about the background and standpoint of the others involved in the proposed debate and has concluded a debate with people who held such views would not be a useful way to explore the topic.”
Instead, Professor Divine will deliver a lecture on the topic by himself, the statement said.
Mr. Taylor, who describes himself as a “race realist,” said he was shocked by the university’s about-face on the debate, and said it showed “academic cowardice.”
“I’m absolutely astounded by this,” he said in an interview from his Virginia office. “In effect, he has ejected me from the debate and taken the floor for himself … They’ve turned a debate into a monologue.”
Prof. Divine was not available for comment and it was not clear who decided to cancel the debate.
But Tom Traves, the Dalhousie University president told the Halifax Chronical-Herald one day before the event was cancelled that he was surprised to hear of the potential controversy and promised: “I’ll have to look into this.”
And in an e-mail to the National Post, university spokesman Charles Crosby wrote: “The powers that be have just informed me the event will now not take place.”
Posters had already been printed for the event, and Mr. Taylor said he had already booked his flight and hotel room. “They don’t want to hear dissenting points of view on this topic.”
Mr. Turk, whose association represents 55,000 teachers, librarians, researchers and other academic staff, said that regardless of what university officials thought of Mr. Taylor’s views, they should be protecting professors who raise controversy.
He gave as one example a political scientist from St. Francis Xavier University who attended a Holocaust denial conference in Iran earlier this month. Shiraz Dossa was chastized by the university’s academic vice-president this week, but has apparently not been disciplined for attending the two-day conference in Tehran.
The president of the university expressed “shock and regret” when he learned that the professor had presented a paper on how the Holocaust plays into the war on terror.
Mr. Turk insists that the “role of a university administrator is to protect their faculty’s academic freedom—not to discipline them for exercising it.”
“Why yes, it can also be called civil discourse; we used to learn that in high school or earlier. A university, of all institutions, doesn’t get it and they can’t see their own stunning hypocrisy!? ”
“Being a former (and reformed) “Canadian psuedo-liberal”, this is no surprise. Free speech is absolutely intolerated in Canada; as such, I reside in the States, never to return to the north. Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot of admiration for “Canadian values” such as these in the US currently, and seem to be gaining steam. Fortunately, we still have some forums like this here. Lets fight for them.”
“Only ‘controversial’ speech requires protections inherent in our First Amendment, which does not have a correlary in Canadian (UK) law. Canada is stuck with ADL/B’nai B’rith Hate Crime/Hate Speech laws which now exist in most US States, in direct violation of our Constitution/Bill of Rights. The UN Charter of Human Rights similarly allows self-appointed elitists to control “free” speech. Without free speech, there is no freedom for the Citizenry.”
“So much for free speech and debate. All it takes is for some group such as SPLC to label you as a white supremacist or a racist and then some universities will think they are allowed to prevent you from speaking and/or allow radical students to shout you down. However, Mr. Taylor is in very good company, SPLC and others are also not too happy with Pat Buchanan, Dinesh D’Souza, Charles Murray, David Horowitz and Ann Coulter, to name just a few.
Almost all the universities scream about student [racial] diversity, but want no part [in discussing the topic] of academic and political diversity. The ratio between leftists and conservatives is striking. ”
- Free speech in jeopardy at Canadian universities, human rights conference told (calgaryherald.com)
- Canadian universities failing to protect free speech: report (life.nationalpost.com)