The provincial government of Ontario recently mandated that all publicly assisted colleges and universities within the province develop and post their own free speech policies by January 1, 2019. If Institutions do not comply the provincial government may withhold funding. The Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario is crying wolf. They say that this unprecedented policy is an attack on universities. It claims that the move forces people to choose a side in an important public debate. According to the new directive the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario is to monitor progress of free speech.
Why should you care about such matters? To many students university may just be a vehicle to a good career. Although it is true that in the world that we live in today such post-grad success is no longer guaranteed, it is no less a valid motivation for a number of university students. However in the charged political climate that we find ourselves in today it comes to mind that the university campus should and could represent something more. University is a place where ideas could be tested and tried. Where opposing opinions could face off in contest to see which fails under scrutiny. A school that disallows representation, through civil discourse, to groups and camps of thought that it finds reprehensible, ridiculous or erroneous is committing a grave mistake. Foremost, such actions are an affront to the spirit of the Institution. Men such as Darwin, Copernicus, or Luther were proponents of just such unpopular views. Today they are seen as revolutionaries, yet one must ask how our world would look like today should they have been successfully silenced. A spirit open to at least engaging a variety of ideas is one that will lead to continuing progress. What of those opinions which bear no hope of vindication however? Even in these cases we must allow them a voice. For how are we to test the soundness of our own argument except by the criticisms voiced by those who dissent? Furthermore, it is our moral obligation, as Socrates would have it, to engage those which we deem in the wrong in a manner which may enlighten them. If universities in Ontario have failed to ensure free speech then they should be ashamed that the government had to step in. However if this is simply a move by the government to control the voice of academia then they haven't learnt a thing from history.
I have contacted the chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario for further comments. At this time there has been no reply.