[This column was originally posted on “Context with Lorna Dueck” six months ago. Alas, the issues remain live all over the continent.]
It’s a “man decides not to bite dog” story. The Montreal Gazette reports that the judicial board of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) came to the “inescapable conclusion” that “any motion that specifically targets one nation and compels SSMU to actively campaign against that country, such as the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] motion, is unconstitutional.”
Thus McGill’s student council refused to choose sides in the politics of Israel and Palestine. It thus refused to divide the community of scholars on its campus, and instead let this important and complex debate roll on.
Story after story in the North American media have highlighted campuses exploding in rage over political differences. Professors have been vilified, student groups disqualified, lectures and ceremonies disrupted, and administrations roundly criticized for making things worse or not nearly enough better, according to some value upon which this or that militant individual or group insists on imposing on everyone else.
I’ve been proud that one of my “alma maters,” the University of Chicago, has set a fine example of protecting free expression on its campus and among its constituents in its “Statement on Principles of Free Expression,” composed by law professor Geoffrey R. Stone in 2012. Among its bracing paragraphs is this superbly balanced and forthright directive:
“For members of the University community, as for the University itself, the proper response to ideas they find offensive, unwarranted and dangerous is not interference, obstruction, or suppression. It is, instead, to engage in robust counter-speech that challenges the merits of those ideas and exposes them for what they are. To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.”
(See also a later official statement here.)