How can we hold university administrators accountable for abandoning intellectual diversity?

In what seems to be a never-ending stream of capitulation to groups of vocal (and sometimes violent) social justice activists, Canada’s Ryerson University recently cancelled an event featuring three university professors (Gad Saad, Jordan Peterson, Oren Amitay), and a right-wing activist named Faith Goldy*.

Officially, Ryerson cited safety concerns following Charlottesville as its main reason for cancelling the event, although this has been disputed by the event organizer, who noted that administrators refused her requests to delay the event by several months rather than cancelling it.

After a thorough security review, the University has concluded that Ryerson is not equipped to provide the necessary level of public safety for the event to go forward, particularly given the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. For that reason, we have told the organizers that Ryerson will no longer provide a room for their event.

There is often a tension at universities resulting from our commitment to be a place for free speech and our commitment to be a place that is civil, safe, and welcoming. At this time, Ryerson University is prioritizing campus safety.

– Ryerson University Statement (Facebook link) –

 
The hard truth is that this type of thing is old news to anyone who has been following campus politics over the past few years. Disruptive – and often violent – student protests have become the norm when so-called “problematic” speakers are invited to campus to speak, or when people vocally dissent from mainstream social justice worldview.

– Antifa protests at UC Berkely left parts of the campus in flames –

 
Instead of risking controversy, violence, and the bad publicity that comes with difficult discussions, university administrators have consistently abandoned their institution’s commitment to fostering an intellectually diverse community. Why is this happening, and what can be done about it?


Out of sight, out of mind: this is how university administrators operate

To understand why the average university administrator appears to have the backbone of a jellyfish, it is important to realize that there is way more to a university than just undergraduate education.

Institutions of higher learning have many roles to play in society beyond (supposedly) educating young people. These include being;

  • Research hubs, often in collaboration with industry
  • A source of young talent for employers
  • Cultural centres and archivers of accumulated knowledge
  • An economic hub (and often a key stakeholder in municipal issues)
  • Called upon to be a source of knowledge & wisdom at a local, regional, and national level
  • A force of positive change in their community

In order to be taken seriously in these roles, universities must maintain a certain level of prestige. This is difficult to do when reports of controversial talks and counter-protests happening on your campus appear on the news semi-regularly, or when extremely vocal and media-savvy social justice activists are talking about how “oppressive”, “racist”, or “unsafe” your institution is.

The worst thing that can happen to a university is for someone to be hurt or killed while on campus… especially if the administration could have done something about it – say, by cancelling a controversial talk “for safety reasons”. Parents would sue, talking heads would appear on news channels giving their unqualified opinions, and all of this erodes the ability of university administrators to be taken seriously in meetings with industry leaders, employers, politicians, and potential students.

As a side note, this also explains the harsh crackdowns on recreational student activities that have almost nothing to do with the university itself, yet still reflect poorly on the institution; “unauthorized” parties and binge drinking, inappropriate frosh week cheers, Greek life, and all sorts of other fun-yet-sometimes-risky things.

The academy should lead public opinion, not follow it

In an ideal world, people would look to the university for wisdom on how the various mechanisms of our society should operate. However, in Western society, universities are seen primarily as prestigious training centres for young people who want a “good job”.

As a result, instead of determining what young people should learn while on campus, universities have let the market (sometimes employers and parents, but more often the students themselves) decide what they will and won’t bother to be exposed to during their “education”. Case in point;

I think what we are witnessing at U of T and other campuses in Canada and the U.S. are students who are making it clear that racism, transphobia, Islamophobia, and ableism will not be tolerated in educational environments where students are paying tens of thousands of dollars to learn and launch their careers.

– Denio Lourenco, former U of T LGBTQ Coordinator (interview link) –


The good news; bad university policies cannot survive public scrutiny

As many people probably know, Evergreen State College faced intense public scrutiny following Bret Weinstein’s appearance on Fox News. Among other things, this has forced the university to sanction some of the most violent students involved in the campus protests, and instituted a workshop on civil disagreement for incoming students.

It’s also safe to say that the reputation of the university has been absolutely destroyed, in no small part due to the fact that the complete failure of the administration to address any aspect of this controversy (or the events that led up to it) has been well-documented in the public sphere.

This is the best example of how truth can still triumph over “campus craziness”.


The Solution: Demand explanations and force public dialogue

Postmodernism-inspired social justice activists have a disproportionate amount of influence in universities because they have figured out how to make use of the most effective source of institutional leverage in higher education: the reputation of a university. It’s time for defenders of intellectual diversity to do the same.

Activists routinely “call out” institutions for a various number of crimes and failings, both real and imagined. These activists’ voices are amplified by a 24/7 news cycle that thrives on controversy and conflict, forcing university administrators to respond, capitulate, and act.

Here are five ways that you can apply pressure to a university without resorting to bully tactics or mob rule.

Tactic 1: Make your voice heard through campus newspapers

This is an avenue best-suited for current students, as they are most likely to be published in a campus newspaper. Although many student-run campus newspapers are derided as irrelevant rags, the truth is that many university administrators (particularly people with student-facing roles) read campus newspapers and often feel compelled to respond when students raise a compelling argument or concern.

Tactic 2: Educate potential students at university fairs

University fairs are massive conventions where representatives from all sorts of different institutions come to entice potential students to attend their schools. These fairs are no small events – the Ontario Universities Fair, one of the largest in North America, regularly draws over 50,000 attendees each year.

Although it costs a ton of money to set up a booth in the actual fair, plenty of vendors have representatives outside the event grounds, handing out swag bags and other paraphernalia. Perhaps it’s time that advocates for intellectual diversity begin to help future undergraduates self-educate about the importance of choosing a university that will protect discussion.

Tactic 3: Publicly invite administrators to engage in constructive discussions

Outside of carefully crafted public statements, university administrators almost never have to justify their actions. It is time for faculty, students, and alumni to demand that institutions be prepared to explain their reasoning in detail, particularly when policies seem to contradict the very purpose of the university.

In short, people should not be able to enforce what they cannot defend in an intellectual dialogue. If university administrators are unwilling or unable to do so, this should be uncovered and shared widely.

Tactic 4: Reach out to (prominent) alumni for support

Alumni are an important part of the university community. They are a significant source of volunteer hours, connections, influence, and donations. If a prominent alumni begins to question certain policies, they are almost certain to get a response.

Tactic 5: Go public when necessary

If something truly wild is happening on your campus, reach out to media to get help documenting it.

Some caveats:

  • It is generally against university policies (and common sense) to demand details regarding disciplinary procedures for certain students. Telling the university to punish someone who’s acted poorly isn’t going to go very far.
  • If you’re going to challenge university administrators to a battle of wits, you’d better make sure you’re up to the task. Have your arguments well-laid out and proofread by others before going public. For example, raising important questions regarding how certain policies intersect with the stated mission of your institution is compelling and likely to get a response. However, attempting to shield rugby chants about rape, mutilation, and beastiality under “civil liberties” is probably not a good idea.

Side Note: Expelling students isn’t (always) the answer

People who think otherwise are probably selectively forgetting all the stupid things they did in university.

Besides learning about the world, universities are places where students also learn how to influence others and engage in discourse. Failures and transgressions in this regard are inevitable and should be treated as learning opportunities.

The only exception to this, obviously, is when a student causes significant bodily harm to others, intentionally damages property, or otherwise breaches the social contract in a particularly egregious way.


Footnote regarding Faith Goldy:

* Personally, although I very much like Gad Saad, Jordan Peterson, and Oren Amitay, I thoroughly dislike Faith Goldy and her “journalism” work with the quickly-disintegrating Rebel Media. Without knowing her personally, it would seem that her comments about “white consciousness”, the “JQ”, and her guest appearance on a neo-Nazi podcast were either tremendous errors in judgement or indicative of a morally repugnant worldview. Faith Goldy (and most other current/former Rebel Media spokespeople) are not people I would choose as panelists or spokespeople for conservative causes.

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