BREAKING: Laurier releases Draft Statement on Freedom of Expression

Wilfrid Laurier University has released their Draft Statement on Freedom of Expression and is now calling for feedback through the university’s website.

The draft statement, available in full here, begins with an introduction from vice-president: research and acting provost, Rob Gordon, who outlines the school’s aspirations to “promote respectful intellectual discourse.”

As noted in the introduction, the task force has been engaged in deliberation since January, when it became clear “that individual members of the task force brought divergent perspectives to the table.” According to Gordon, this wide range of viewpoints has been enriching to the deliberation process.

While the statement as described “will serve to protect free expression for all at Laurier” the introduction also emphasized the protection of, “perhaps most importantly – those whose viewpoints have been and continue to be marginalized.”

The introduction also describes how the task force incorporated feedback from “over 300 interested individuals, as well as consultation from several legal, free speech and postsecondary experts.”

The draft statement itself outlines the university’s role and duty to promote free and open discourse on campus, with some restrictions on speech as outlined by Canada’s legal framework (“threats, defamationdiscriminationharassment, unjustified and substantial invasion of privacy and confidentiality, and hate speech.”)

On top of legal and regulatory framework, the statement outlines “social and pedagogical responsibilities which must be considered by institutions of higher learning.” These responsibilities include, “a high ethical standard for intellectual contribution and open and respectful discourse,” and “a collective responsibility for fostering a culture which supports free expression for all members of the university community.”

With respect to individuals and groups on campus who “may find it difficult to engage in or respond to free expression,” including those who “may feel marginalized, or may feel negatively impacted as a result of the ideas expressed,” the statement includes the following section:

“The university takes seriously its commitment to the well-being of all community members and provides a range of support systems and services. Further, the university encourages all community members to respond to ideas or speech that they find harmful or distressing by using the tools of expression available to them. Rather than attempting to silence speech, Laurier community members are encouraged to articulate dissenting views in meaningful ways through, for example, participating in debate, expressing opposition by hosting alternative events, inviting speakers to express opposing views, and/or engaging in non-violent protests.”

The statement continues on to describe the importance of context in matter of free expression:

“There may be times when instructional material or discussions broach topics that cause some individuals to feel distressed or even silenced by ideas that might conflict with elements of their identities or worldviews. While intellectual discomfort is to be expected in an academic environment which probes and critiques a variety of perspectives, these moments can be mitigated by strong and balanced pedagogy where openness and respect for human dignity pervade.”

“Although intellectual discomfort may not be used as a basis for restricting relevant expression, students do have the right to expect a classroom environment that is free of personally directed attacks on their individual character, motives, or attributes,” the statement continues.

The statement finishes with a description of Laurier’s role as an educational institution (“to foster an open and inclusive environment where ideas can be shared, discussed and challenged, enabling individuals to explore issues, draw their own conclusions, and develop their intellectual capacities.”)

“It is only by supporting free expression in this productive, respectful, and pedagogically sound way that Laurier can fulfil its mission, and prepare graduates to engage with difficult ideas and challenge the world in all its complexity,” the statement concludes.

Those interested in offering feedback are encouraged to do so one of two ways: either by submitting through the form offered, or downloading, editing and re-uploading the draft statement as a Word document.

Once feedback has been collected, the task force will revise the statement as needed and share a final draft with the university Senate for review.

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