Will new rules around free speech on campus wind up silencing protestors? - 2019-10-30
When Kayla Weiler was in her ﬁnal year at the University of Guelph—where last spring she earned a degree in history—she noticed a trend that worried her: groups with racist views were coming on campus at night to tape up posters with messages such as "It's OK to be white." The next day, they would check Facebook to see if they'd stirred up any kind of student reaction. What they were trying to do, says Weiler, who is Ontario's representative to the Canadian Federation of Students, "is pull in people who might be interested in that kind of racist dog whistle."
Weiler is concerned that this trend could escalate now that Ontario Premier Doug Ford's government has mandated all publicly assisted universities and colleges to develop new free-speech policies. (Their deadline was Jan. 1, 2019.) The policies apply to students, faculty, administration, campus staff and any guests of a university. Ontario has directed the schools, in framing their new policies, to consult the Chicago principles, which were developed in 2014 by a University of Chicago committee "in light," it said, "of recent events nationwide that have tested institutional commitments to free and open discourse."
In the spring of that year—which became known as the "Disinvitation Season"—there was a spike in student-led efforts to prevent various ﬁgures from making commencement speeches at U.S. colleges. Most, but not all, disinvitation activism was aimed at right-leaning speakers. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state during George W. Bush's presidency, was invited to give the commencement speech at Rutgers but cancelled when students protested her appearance. Two years later, President Barack Obama addressed the incident in his own commencement speech at Rutgers. "I don't think it's a secret that I disagree with many of the foreign policies of Dr. Rice and the previous administration," he said. "But the notion that this community or the country would be better served by not hearing from a former secretary of state, or shutting out what she had to say—I believe that's misguided. I don't think that's how democracy works best, when we're not even willing to listen to each other." Since 2014, disinvitations have continued at an increasing pace, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).