Wilfrid Laurier graduate student Lindsay Shepherd is calling on the university to take long-term steps to address protecting free speech on campus after she was severely reprimanded for airing a clip of Jordan Peterson without denouncing that person’s views.
“I’m happy that they apologized. I wasn’t out for blood,” Shepherd told Global News. “But they never offered a long-term solution. Yes, they did some damage control, they offered some apologies but they never made a long-term commitment.”
Shepherd said she would like to see the university look at adopting something modelled on free speech principles like the “Chicago principles” which was first approved by the University of Chicago in 2015.
The policy stresses a commitment to free speech and not to shield students from ideas or opinions regardless of how “unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive” they are. The idea stemmed from a string of incidents involving attempts to bar controversial commencement speakers at campuses across the U.S.
“I’m happy they apologized but at the same time let’s acknowledge this was their only option,” Shepherd said.
WATCH: Audio from secretly recorded meeting between Wilfrid Laurier University grad student and faculty
She said she heard from “more than 100” former Laurier alumni who threatened to withdraw donations to the university or prevent their kids from attending after the recordings became public.
“They are embarrassed and they had to do something about it,” she said. “It’s pretty sad that to be taken seriously as a grad student, I had to secretly, covertly record these people. They wouldn’t take my word for it.”
Wilfrid Laurier University president Deborah MacLatchy apologized to Shepherd on Tuesday after a recording revealed three Laurier faculty and staff members berating her for failing to condemn the views of controversial University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson.
Peterson has refused to use gender-neutral pronouns, “zie”“zher” and “they.” Shepherd had aired a clip of a debate featuring the professor as part of a tutorial for a communications class.
One of her supervisors, Nathan Rambukkana, is heard in the recording telling Shepherd that she created a “toxic climate” for students and compared showing the clip to “neutrally playing a speech by Hitler.”
Shepherd is also heard in the recording tearfully defending herself while staff accuse her of being transphobic.
“The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires,” Laurier president Deborah MacLatchy said in the apology, adding the school is proceeding with a third-party investigation into the dispute.
“I am sorry it occurred in the way that it did and I regret the impact it had on Lindsay Shepherd.”
Rambukkana also apologized in an open to letter to Shepherd saying he “didn’t do enough to try to support you in this meeting, which I deeply regret.”
“While I still think that such material needs to be handled carefully, especially so as to not infringe on the rights of any of our students or make them feel unwelcome in the learning environment, I believe you are right that making a space for controversial or oppositional views is important, and even essential to a university,” he wrote in the letter.
He further apologized for comparing Peterson to Hitler.
“I implied that Dr. Peterson is like Hitler, which is untrue and was never my intention,” he wrote. “While I disagree strongly with many of Dr. Peterson’s academic positions and actions, the tired analogy does him a disservice and was the opposite of useful in our discussion.”
As for Shepherd, she wants this to be a lesson for all academic institutions and says it also highlights the risk people take to go public with a story.
“It comes with a risk and it’s going to be attached to my name forever,” she said. “I hope more people will be willing to talk about this. We don’t just want this to be one case and then people forget about it.”
– With files from Mike Drolet