Tuesday, July 9, 2019

UBC Banned by Vancouver Pride: open letter to UBC Pres & BoG Chair

Dear Santa and Michael,

I have read with disappointment about the inevitable fallout from UBC providing a platform for hate speech and alt-right members of groups like the Soldiers of odin last month. Note the following article in the Vancouver Sun from yesterday.

Faculty have been arguing for and lobbying for clear policies on issues around academic freedom and de-platforming of hate speech advocates.  The situation with Mr. Jen Smith, who was allowed onto campus to speak last month, demonstrates a serious misconception around the issues of the role of the university in promoting academic freedom.  This talk was a purely commercial venture (for the university), it was not a university activity in any sense and the materials in the presentation do not fit within any recognized academic tradition that would merit the protections of academic freedom.

The university community cannot wait until the fall for an administrative review of policy.  We need to act more expeditiously. 

The decision of Pride Vancouver to ban UBC’s formal involvement in the Pride Day Parade is a serious embarrassment to the university. It underscores a fundamental dissonance in how purveyors of hate are platformed by UBC by an administrative slight of hand - "we are just booking a facility.”  

I look forward to hearing back from you post haste with an immediate action plan.



UPDATE [July 10, 2019].

As of late yesterday I had received replies from both UBC's president and the chair of UBC's Board of Governors. I appreciate their quick reply and thoughtful responses to  my open letter.  I share here a very brief overview of their replies and my comment on the urgency of a fundamental response that merits a university.

From the board chair I can attest that action is underway to address the concerns that I, like many of my faculty colleagues at UBC, have raised. Time will only tell if this action will be effective.

Formally, the first opportunity to discuss and direct the university to act (short of a special meeting of the board being called) will be the September meeting of the Board of Governors. I have been assured by the board chair that he has been engaged with senior administration in order to ensure real changes are made.

From our university president I have been informed that senior management has been directed to compile the relevant documents and policies and decision-making processes that led to the decision to permit Mr Jen Smith's talk.

As a governor I remain committed to ensuring that UBC is no longer a platform for purveyor's of hate. Too often we have seen platforms provided for persons with problematic involvement as perpetrators of violence against Indigenous peoples, as explicitly mysogynist and anti-LGBTQ+, and as white supremacists. These persons and groups hide behind the mantle of freedom of expression when their actions and words clearly show they are only intersted in the freedom to propagate their visions of hatred. 

Up to now our university administration has been ineffectual in addressing these problems and has continually used their problematic notion of academic freedom to wipe their hands of making any effective decision. The outcome has been a continued series of hate speech presentations from the nearly annual anti-women/anti-choice group disruptions through to the recent alt-right campus presentations.

While the administration has a role to play in ensuring a respectful, safe, non-bullying workplace and study place, ultimately it falls to the majority of us to take a stand and ensure that purveyors of hate have no platform in the university environment.