Disclosure: Wyatt Claypool is a third-year Policy Studies and History student at Mount Royal University, where he serves as the President for its Campus Conservatives. He is also a Conservative board member for Signal Hill.
Professor and Mount Royal Faculty Association (MRFA) representative on MRU’s board of governors, Dr. Roberta Lexier, believes that freedom of speech infringes on her academic freedoms. The Justification for this stance is shaky at first glance, and the explanation isn’t exactly convincing.
Recently Dr. Lexier posted extensively on Twitter about her beliefs that there is no free speech crisis on campus and that “The false claims of a free speech crisis on campus [is] really a weapon wielded in an attempt to destroy academic freedom.” which is a claim that continually goes unsupported in her statements.
This is in response to the demand from free speech activists that universities implement the Chicago Principles for free speech. They read, “It is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”
The set of principals only draws the limit to speech at the use of threats or calls for violence.
In no way do Chicago Principles violate academic freedom, as it only provides a broad non-discriminatory standard for free speech. Regardless, Dr. Lexier finds Chicago Principles distasteful.
An op-ed that Dr. Lexier linked on Twitter as being “essential reading” from The Globe And Mail gives useful insight into how she and a growing number of academics think of free speech on campus.
Essential reading here. The false claims of a free speech crisis on campus are really a weapon wielded in an attempt to destroy academic freedom. https://t.co/aAypzFS7tF— Dr. Roberta Lexier (@rlexier) August 31, 2019
In the article titled, “The real free-speech crisis on Alberta’s campuses might not be what you think it is”, author Shama Rangwala argues that there is a significant difference on campus between freedom of speech and academic freedom.
“Freedom of speech and academic freedom are not the same, and censorship is imposed generally by the state, not in delineated spaces such as the university. While everyone is free to speak within legal limits, not everyone is entitled to a platform or institutional legitimacy,” writes Rangwala.
First, most universities in Canada are publicly funded institutions that have internal governing bodies, but that does not allow them to redefine fundamental Canadian rights. Second, it is deeply elitist to argue that “the university fundamentally regulates what kinds of knowledge are legitimate” gatekeeping who is and is not “legitimate” according to those working at a mostly left-wing institution. This way of deciding academic merit lacks principle and instead implements a standard of a university’s arbitrary approval or disapproval.
Rangwala is falsely asserting that somehow both concepts of “academic freedom” and freedom of speech exist in Article 2 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, each with different regulations.
Academic freedom does not exist outside of the normal parameters of free speech, no special rules govern intellectual activity on university campuses.
Dr. Lexier came off as extremely defensive in a Twitter rant from July 31st where she denied the existence of a free speech crisis on campus and declared the university a “unique public space” saying they are “dedicated to *academic* debate and discussion” but that universities should “protect academic freedom first and foremost.” These are self-contradicting statements. Are universities dedicated to debate and discussion or your case by case “legitimacy” regulated version?
Those demanding free speech on campus are also dedicated to squashing free speech off-campus (see AB War Room and right-wing media outlets). If the Chicago Principles simply reiterate a commitment to free speech then why would any university need to embed them in policy?— Dr. Roberta Lexier (@rlexier) July 31, 2019
Here, Dr. Lexier is trying to deflect the importance of the broad Chicago free speech principles by acting like the more restrictive “free speech” on most Canadian university campuses is equivalent. If Chicago Principles only “reiterate a commitment to free speech,” then why not implement them to satisfy its advocates?
If censorship does not occur in the name of “academic freedom,” then why does Dr. Lexier also try to play down the ideological bias on campus? Faculty bias would not matter if “academic freedom” was also not used for ideological discrimination.
The vast majority of university professors are not even adjacent to radical. Every time someone claims universities are bastions of left-wing radicals I wonder where all these people are. They sure aren’t at any university I know.— Dr. Roberta Lexier (@rlexier) July 31, 2019
Dr. Lexier is merely shifting the goalpost to there being no majority of left-wing radicals. This does not refute the fact that universities are heavily biased towards the left, which is a claim backed up by every study of faculty political affiliations.
Lexier herself is quite an actively political left-winger, and ironically enough, also does not tolerate other points of view off-campus.
It would be difficult to claim to not be able to find the radical left on campus as Dr. Lexier’s own university employs professors like Michael Truscello, who has aspired to one day murder the “bourgeoisie,” on Twitter. MRU is an institution that also offers many courses like ENGL 3382 – Textualities/Sexualities, WGST 2283 – Women and Aging, and lost the 2015 McLeod v. Mount Royal court case because of their denial of a pro-life activist’s right to free speech on campus. Left-wing radicalism isn’t the majority on campus but it is still sizeable and growing.
Those more extreme examples are not meant to totally condemn Mount Royal University, as I think they should hire professors and platform ideas/courses from all perspectives. The issue here is that tolerance of opinion is increasingly not being granted to those who do not follow the progressive left’s politically-correct standards.
Freedom of speech and academic freedom should go hand in hand. How could you practice your full academic freedom if institutional gatekeepers prevent specific ideas from being platformed? One cannot become more intelligent through exposure to less information.
Dr. Lexier wants the ability to define herself as correct, and in doing so places the university at the top of an intellectual hierarchy so that she can deny a platform or “legitimacy” to those who challenge her ideas. In reality, Dr. Lexier does not want academic freedom; she wants privilege.
The university should not be in the business of bestowing “legitimacy,” it best serves its students and the wider community by being a neutral platform for exchanging knowledge.
Anyone demanded by the public to speak on campus should be able to, and all ideas should be given their opportunity to be aired in a healthy environment for discussion.
Without the ability to think for themselves students aren’t really being provided with a well-rounded education.