David Gilmour should be confronted but not censored

Canadian author and literature professor David Gilmour, who is little known outside of Canada, has received international attention due to comments he made in an interview last week regarding the content he teaches.  In the interview, Gilmour was quoted saying he exclusively teaches book written by “serious heterosexual guys” and has no interest in teaching books written by women.

The comments, understandably, have drawn criticism by the public and the University of Toronto, which has taken great measures to assure students, faculty and the media that it in no way endorses the views of its professor.

Gilmour had a speaking engagement planned in Waterloo to talk about his new, very well-received novel but the event was cancelled after the controversy following his comments.  If Gilmour’s comments drew criticism and emphasized a dangerous narrow-mindedness, so should the cancelling of this event, which is tantamount to censorship.

Gilmour has attempted to clarify his comments but that has done little to satisfy those who have already pegged him as a bigoted, sexist, racist white man. If there is a debate to be had about Gilmour’s comments or, more broadly, about the content of literature courses in university, then that is a debate that should be had.

It should not be shut down pre-emptively. Yes, if Gilmour came to speak he would have been asked about his comments and there may have even been some people offended by his visit. But that does not warrant a cancellation.

These sorts of difficult topics should be discussed in open forums and community events so that we can collectively tackle important issues and progress rather than ignore. His comments were inappropriate, and someone representing a university has to know better. It’s sad that Gilmour’s work, which has received acclaim in the past, is unknown to much of the world and he will now be defined by the comments he made.

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