Laurier university professors launch petition over free speech controversy
A group of professors at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario have launched a petition urging the school to embrace more open free speech policies.
The petition calls for the school to accept a resolution titled “The Laurier Statement for Freedom of Expression” amid backlash that the university infringed on the academic freedom of teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd.
“It is axiomatic that intellectual inquiry, critical reflection and scholarly integrity are NOT POSSIBLE in an institution that prevents some ideas from being articulated,” a statement from the professors reads.
WATCH: Excerpts from secretly recorded meeting between Wilfrid Laurier University grad student and faculty
So far, the petition posted on Change.org by Laurier professor William McNally, has been signed by more than 80 people.
Along with McNally, a news release announcing the petition was signed by three other Laurier professors: Simon Kiss, Andrew Robinson and David Millard Haskell. The release encourages other faculty members and students to support the petition.
“We are pleased to relay that Lindsay Shepherd gives her full support to this initiative,” the release reads.
The resolution drafted by the professors is inspired by one developed by the University of Chicago, which sought to protect debate and free speech at universities. The American document has been endorsed by academics and universities across the U.S.
The resolution states that the university should stay out of conflicts of opinion, and not “shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome” — except when they infringe on the law.
WATCH: Free speech activist rips Laurier university over censorship controversy
“Wilfrid Laurier University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, or that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests,” the document reads.
On Tuesday, the university’s president Deborah MacLatchy issued a public apology to Shepherd over how she was treated during a meeting with the school’s officials.
WATCH: Wilfrid Laurier TA says University censored her for showing clip on gender pronouns
During the meeting, which Shepherd secretly recorded and provided to Global News, she was reprimanded for showing students a video of University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, who refuses to use pronouns other than “he” or “she” for transgender individuals.
The university said showing the clip of Peterson, without denouncing it, created a toxic atmosphere for students. The meeting left Shepherd in tears.
MacLatchy’s apology noted:”Laurier is committed to the abiding principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”
Shepherd has since accepted the school’s apology, but said the university needs to take more action.
WATCH: Laurier University ‘should be so fundamentally embarrassed,’ lawyer says
“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.”
Along with the petition, a rally has also been organized in support of Shepherd on Nov. 24 in Waterloo, Ont. Shepherd is scheduled to speak at the event.
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