Thompson Rivers University

Academic freedom and free speech

  Posted on: December 17, 2015

Dear Colleagues,

Almost every day I see examples of incivility, hatred and dehumanization. It happens in the world, in Canada, in Kamloops and, sadly sometimes even within our TRU community. It happens in the media, on social media and in face-to-face meetings. We see how people advance opinions not by the strength of their case but by attacking others’ intelligence, their character, their motives or by ridiculing other people for alleged absurd beliefs. Such tactics seek to hide the bankruptcy of their case. Outrage and denigration have become the tools of destructive debate aimed not at gaining understanding but at victory by intimidating and silencing one’s opponents. This punishment of those speaking out freely in public is a dangerous attack on our right to free speech; it must be resisted.

Fortunately in Canada, universities are places where the active contesting of ideas is accepted as a safe and respectful path to understanding. It’s the norm rather than the exception. Faculty members especially are expected to exercise academic freedom by freely expressing their informed opinions without fear of retaliation from their colleagues or the university. I undertake the defense of their academic freedom as a key responsibility. And as president I also undertake the defense of the right to free speech for all students, faculty and staff.

If we are to succeed as a community dedicated to the creation of new knowledge and understanding for the benefit of all people we must all accept personal responsibility for treating each other in a civil, respectful and inclusive manner. Therefore let us be informed, impassioned, and gentle in our approach. When each debate is done, let us come together once again as a university community to build a better world. We are all in this together.

Alan Shaver
President and Vice-Chancellor