Faulty reasoning in column on free speech in academic world

Rick Zemanek’s April 11 column The academic world vs. free speech is a welcome expression of free speech, not for the viewpoints that it apparently supports but for its demonstration of partisan reasoning and rhetorical posturing, both of which represent the purported facts for particular ends.

Rick Zemanek’s April 11 column The academic world vs. free speech is a welcome expression of free speech, not for the viewpoints that it apparently supports but for its demonstration of partisan reasoning and rhetorical posturing, both of which represent the purported facts for particular ends.

Such an article is an apparent but ultimately limited opportunity to begin debate and analysis through an examination of Zemanek’s argument, rhetoric, and examples that essentially attempt to discredit the value of post-secondary education as mere training in the jingoism of professional correctness.

The title of his piece sets the tone: it is an adversarial relationship between the “academic world” and “free speech.” To call the academy a “world” is to set it off as its own entity, distinct or disconnected from what I assume he means to be the “real” world. This is the old and incorrect stereotype of the ivory tower. “Free speech,” of course, sounds very good, and few people in democratic societies would oppose such a principle, although there are good reasons to make exceptions to the principle as in cases of hate speech.

The underlying primary source of evidence to discredit the post-secondary system is the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom (JCCF) that gave most Canadian institutions a failing grade on freedom. If you are unfamiliar with it as I was, JCCF is a private, Calgary-based organization that conducted its own study of the education system mandated, apparently, by nobody but itself.

In its own report, it describes its motivating agenda for research: the JCCF believes that Canadian freedom is “eroded by governments and by government-funded and government-created entities like Canada’s public universities, and human rights commissions.” The institute clearly outlines its initial disagreement with the university and government systems, and, therefore, it is not surprising that it finds the systems to be broken. In research, this is called confirmation bias.

The two examples of “free speech walls” that Zemanek provides are also telling because the JCCF initiates and supports these walls, a fact Zemanek quietly omits. The first instance from Carlton University has a gay rights student advocate tearing down an apparently pro-gay display. Zemanek leaves the contradiction alone, merely inviting the reader to “Figure that one out,” thereby implying the irrationality of a pro-gay argument. The second instance is from Queen’s University, where campus security removed a display that allegedly contained hate speech. The university provost would not repeat the allegedly offending words, a position which understandably raised the ire of the JCCF.

Zemanek suggests that university students have adopted an “it’s my way or no way” approach to issues, a direction perpetuated by rigid and biased universities. Like his title, the structure of the argument is purely divisive. In fact, there is no room for debate. There is no discussion of the public good that universities contribute to Canada; it is almost entirely absent. Like confirmation bias, there is no examination of alternative viewpoints. How or where is the university system to defend itself?

I am neither supporting nor excusing the universities’ actions. More facts are needed to make a judgment. Moreover, what alternatives to the university system might the JCCF suggest?

It is sadly ironic that this column that amounts to a condemnation of the post-secondary system is published right after the Alberta government has made massive cuts to higher education in the province.

When questioned about the cuts, Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said, in a familiar manner, “But this is the reality, this is non-negotiable.”

Meanwhile, educators and academics across the province try to get their voices heard despite this divisive and categorical decision-making process. Attacking post-secondary education is not an effective or productive way to foster critical thinking and open debate, despite the apparent and acknowledged flaws in the system.

In response to Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel’s criticism of Lukaszuk’s cuts, the minister responded with a similar yet meaningless and ineffective rhetorical approach: “I don’t know who pissed into [Mandel’s] corn flakes, and you can quote me on that.”

I am quoting you, Lukaszuk, and in case you are still wondering who did it, you did.

Roger Davis

Red Deer

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

More than 120,000 Albertans have signed up to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the first two days of appointment bookings. (Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services Twitter)
Alberta Health Services apologizes after seniors struggle to book vaccine appointments

The CEO and president of Alberta Health Services is apologizing after seniors… Continue reading

Red Deer’s Kyle Moore, 26, will be a houseguest on Season 9 of Big Brother Canada. (Photo courtesy Big Brother Canada)
Red Deer man will be a houseguest on Big Brother Canada

A Red Deer man will be a houseguest on the upcoming season… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools says that in the absence of additional funds from the provincial government, there was no consideration of using alternate classroom sites in the district. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Red Deer Public Schools launches online engagement process

Red Deer Public schools is seeking community input to help ensure a… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels defenceman Mason Ward battles with a Medicine Hat Tigers’ forward during the WHL Central Division season opener. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers come back to spoil Red Deer Rebels home opener

It’s been nearly 345 days since the Red Deer Rebels last played… Continue reading

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) stands in his crease as Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88), left to right, defenceman Rasmus Andersson (4), Matthew Tkachuk (19), Mikael Backlund (11) and Mark Giordano (5) celebrate a goal during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Calgary Flames beat Ottawa 6-3 to end Senators’ three-game win streak

Flames 6 Senators 3 OTTAWA — The Calgary Flames used a balanced… Continue reading

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) falls on his knees as he skates around Ottawa Senators defenceman Artem Zub (2) during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Thursday, February 18, 2021. The Maple Leafs will be without star centre Auston Matthews when they take on the Edmonton Oilers Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto star Auston Matthews won’t play as Leafs face Oilers

EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs will be without star centre Auston Matthews… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough to cover the average pinky nail but is made up of more than 280 components and requires at least three manufacturing plants to produce. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
From science to syringe: COVID-19 vaccines are miracles of science and supply chains

OTTAWA — A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough… Continue reading

Wetaskiwin RCMP say a Maskwacis man died after he was struck by a vehicle. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Clare’s Law in Saskatchewan used handful of times; Mounties review their role

REGINA — A first-of-its-kind law in Canada meant to warn those at… Continue reading

The Magpie river in Quebec is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Boreal River MANDATORY CREDIT
Quebec river granted legal rights as part of global ‘personhood’ movement

MONTREAL — With its kilometres of rapids and deep blue waters winding… Continue reading

Thorough sanding of a table top is usually the first step to renewing a finish. Wax contaminants can sometimes still remain on a surface like this after sanding. Cleaning with rubbing alcohol and a rag gets rid of these contaminants without leaving a residue behind. (Photo by Steve Maxwell)
Houseworks: Fixing wood finishes

Q: How can I stop polyurethane from beading up on a mahogany… Continue reading

Most Read