Free speech has always been a contentious subject on college campuses. While most argue that certain damaging viewpoints shouldn’t be represented, like racism or outright falsehoods, there are some who believe that censoring these views is a violation of the right to free speech.
Of the dozens of examples of controversial speakers being denied a platform by a university, very few have come from Canada. This is because Canada has laws prohibiting willful promotion of hatred, incitement of violence, and discrimination — in short, groups whose ideas are discriminatory in nature are unable to promote their largest platform points because the law forbids it. Even so, universities continue to invite these speakers to lecture on campus in order to represent different perspectives. However, the United Conservative Party (UCP) is seeking to increase the number of inflammatory lecturers. Taking a page from Doug Ford’s book, they plan to implement a set of guidelines called the Chicago principles.
The policy, aptly named by the University of Chicago in 2014, states that anyone should be allowed to speak on campus, regardless of how “unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive” their views may be. Understandably, the Chicago principles have been hotly debated, especially among students.
Critics have argued that the idea of implementing the Chicago principles is merely a way of gaining the far-right vote, and some have even labelled the same policies in Ontario as “Orwellian”. Because this change would allow anyone to speak, hate groups, including those on the far-right, might view it as a chance to convert students to their cause. University students are often young and open-minded, rendering them vulnerable to developing harmful or even outwardly racist ideals.
Disregarding the morality of whether all voices should have a platform, the idea of implementing this aggressive free-speech policy in Alberta feels hypocritical, especially considering who is implementing them. Jason Kenney has been vocal in his condemnation of anyone who is anti-pipeline, publishing several angry tweets about Dr. David Suzuki’s protested (but still allowed) visit to the University of Alberta. Wouldn’t the Chicago principles force the same open welcome not only for the speakers he supports, but also those he doesn’t?
The Chicago principles are an over-correction of a problem few university students have publicly complained about. In fact, it’s often the students themselves who protest incendiary speakers coming to campus when universities invite them. Students often determine who is able to speak at their schools, as they should. With increasingly high tuition and ever-decreasing budgets, why shouldn’t students choose who they want to hear? Though some might argue that this can create a closed circuit of intellectual ideas, not every student has the exact same opinions. The diversity of ideas and opinions in a university is just as great, if not greater than that of the rest of the population.
The fact of the matter is that, due to student protest, the Chicago principles likely wouldn’t change anything. Even if there were some metaphorical leash on guest lecturers in post-secondary institutions, the implementation of the policy would only serve as a talking point for the UCP to gain support from those on the right. Putting the principles in place is not only unnecessary, but an outright bad decision. If the UCP really wants to make changes for the better at universities, they should listen to what actual students want instead of pandering to their static voter base.