Post secondary schools must report on free speech efforts on campus, minister says
The Alberta government says it will require post-secondary institutions to report annually on their efforts to protect free speech on campus.
A news release from the Department of Advanced Education does not detail exactly what must be included in these reports, or say what the consequences would be if the requirements are not met.
Minister Demetrios Nicolaides signalled changes were coming earlier this week after the University of Lethbridge reversed its decision to host a speech by a former Mount Royal University professor whose comments on residential schools have drawn fierce criticism.
Frances Widdowson was fired from Mount Royal in late 2021 after she spoke of the educational benefits of residential schools while questioning whether abuses at the institutions amounted to cultural genocide.
Widdowson's campus speech this week was to centre on concerns that a mob mentality and "woke policies'' increasingly threaten academic freedom.
The Alberta government says the latest move builds on its earlier work in 2019, when it required all 26 publicly funded post-secondary institutions in Alberta to either endorse the Chicago Principles on free expression, or develop a policy consistent with them.
"It is abundantly clear that more needs to be done to ensure our institutions are adequately protecting free speech,'' Nicolaides said in a written statement Friday.
Alberta's post-secondary institutions should be bastions of free speech and academic freedom that promote critical thinking. I will continue to explore greater steps we can take to strengthen free speech on campus."
U OF C STUDENTS ISSUE STATEMENT
Friday morning, the University of Calgary Students' Union issued a statement regarding free speech on campus:
"The Students’ Union (SU) stands with our counterparts from the University of Lethbridge Students’ Union as they push back strongly against hate on their campus.
"U of L students made it clear that there is no place for hate on their campus. As Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said earlier this week “it should be for students to make the final decision about whether to listen to a speech or not.” U of L students stood up, held firm, and made it clear that they had no interest in hearing a lecture that denies the genocidal nature of residential schools and the lasting harm these institutions have done to Indigenous peoples. That decision should be respected.
"Universities are bastions of free speech and expression. However, just like all freedoms, there are limits. Just as Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms puts reasonable limitations on rights and freedoms, there should be limits on our campuses.
"Denying the genocidal nature of residential schools and suggesting the contemporary civil rights movement is destroying post-secondary institutions is an antagonistic position designed to incite hate and discrimination.
"Administration at the University of Lethbridge deserves credit for listening to students and making the difficult, but correct decision to cancel the lecture.
"University of Calgary administration could learn from this example to better manage speech and expression on campus. For years, University of Calgary administration has allowed anti-abortion demonstrators on campus in areas that students must walk through to attend their classes. Protestors bring graphic imagery intended (to) incite anger from members of the campus community. This has led to ongoing harassment of students as students have reported being shouted at and followed.
"The SU has asked the university to take action and follow its own harassment policy when speech includes harassment and discrimination. To date, the University of Calgary has done nothing with regard to these demonstrations, and protestors continue to create an intimidating and hostile educational environment for students.
"The SU renews its calls for the university to restrict graphic and misleading imagery and to ensure that students are not shouted at, harassed, or followed by protesters. The SU calls for the university to take action and ensure debate of ideas is meaningful, not antagonistic and not rooted in harassment."
With files from The Canadian Press
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