Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Now, This is How These Matters Should be Handled

Opposition to Flanagan visit calmed with constructive dialogue

On University Campuses across North America, a disturbing number of vocal minorities have often learned that they can quiet viewpoints they don't want to be heard on campus if they just make enough noise.

Many of those who value free speech have long decried these incidents.

But in an episode that deserves every bit of attention it can possibly get, a recent visit by Tom Flanagan to the University of Manitoba -- which at first provoked a loud protest by groups that objected to Flanagan's stance on aboriginal affairs -- in the end wound up proceeding when the objecting groups were granted a public forum with Flanagan, wherein they could question him and comment on his ideas.

A greater victory for freedom of speech -- and for the intellectual climate of university campuses -- would be difficult to find.

Commending on the matter in the Winnipeg Free Press, Carson Jerema writes that "Scholarly relevance is the only criterion that should determine whether or not a speaker is suitable for a university audience."

"It has nothing to do with political appropriateness, as campus censors sometimes like to think," he continued. "Nor does it have anything to do with the lofty ideals of free expression that are so often, and erroneously, conflated with the business of teaching and learning."

"Universities are concerned with academic worth, not with ensuring an inclusive environment, or with providing a forum for everyone, as if universities were no different from street corners," he concluded.

He couldn't have been more right about that.

Sadly, not all of Canada's Universities are as enlightened. At various universities across Canada, speeches by Jose Ruba comparing abortion to the Holocaust are frequently disrupted by pro-abortion groups, who refuse him the opportunity to speak.

These protesters tend to categorically refuse to even hear Ruba's ideas. Certainly, anyone is entitled to take offense to the character of Ruba's ideas or to the interpretations that he draws. But that is not to say that such individuals have the right to silence someone based on that offense.

So even as those at the University of Manitoba who disagree with Tom Flanagan dealt with their disagreement in a calm, mature and constructive fashion by participating in a public debate, not everyone has come to share their wisdom.

Canada's Universities will all be much better off when they do.

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