Universities failing us

Visit any university or college and you are apt to encounter all sorts of intelligent, well-read people. Heck, almost every post-secondary campus is crawling with them.

Visit any university or college and you are apt to encounter all sorts of intelligent, well-read people. Heck, almost every post-secondary campus is crawling with them.

Unfortunately, at such institutions, there are also a few intellectuals, dwelling in ivory towers, completely disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life.

At the University of Ottawa, for instance, vice-president academic and provost Francois Houle recently warned American political pundit Ann Coulter to use “restraint, respect and consideration” when speaking at the school, before she even set foot in this country.

Houle suggested that Coulter – who holds a law degree – review Canada’s hate speech and defamation laws before giving her talk.

In short, Houle wasn’t exactly encouraging Coulter to speak freely in the great democracy of Canada.

As a result, people who had never even heard of the University of Ottawa now wonder about the quality of that school.

More recently, at the University of Calgary, a few members of a Campus Pro-Life group are apparently now at risk of getting kicked out before they complete their degrees.

U of C bigwigs won’t comment on the record; however, it seems they want to stifle free speech on campus. They, apparently, don’t want anyone raising such a controversial issue as abortion in their midst.

Aren’t universities supposed to foster debate and encourage a variety of opinions? Well, not at the University of Ottawa or the University of Calgary – it seems.

Those two institutions appear to care more about political correctness than they do about the free exchange of ideas.

It matters not whether the group of students at the U of C is pro choice or pro life; what matters is that the students be allowed to express their views.

It’s a shame that they now need a lawyer to defend their right to speak freely on campus. Fortunately, lawyer John Carpay has taken on their cause for no fee.

This week, he accused the university of using campus police as “a tool for censorship,” and he seems to have a point.

Even though campus police, nearly everywhere, tend to be old enough to be the grandparents of most university students, they can be misused to keep students from speaking their views.

Admittedly, campus police officers are generally not strong enough to man-handle young, healthy students, but they are strong enough to dial a telephone and summon police, who can.

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that six members of Campus Pro-Life, at the U of C, were charged with criminal trespassing after the students refused to turn inward a display they call the Genocide Awareness Project.

As noted in The Calgary Herald this week, “The charges were stayed in November, but after ignoring four more warnings to turn their signs inward, the students are now facing hearings starting later this week with university officials.”

Canadian universities get millions of dollars from Canadian taxpayers each year and they ought not to be stepping on free speech.

Shame on the University of Ottawa and shame on the University of Calgary.

They both deserve failing grades.

Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.