Issues

May 2018

Re: “The new campus Puritanism,” by Ira Wells

In the current free speech debate, the relationship between the university and the world outside its walls is as impermeable as ever. Demands from identitarians (white supremacists) to speak in university-owned spaces are lobbed like shells at the fortress walls, but hardly noticed by the citizens writing journal articles inside. Academics understand that the speech they must pay attention to is that practised among themselves, not that of the generalist. Ira Wells clearly explains the distinction between the university’s duty to protect academic freedom and its agnostic stance on freedom of expression. Yes, universities protect speech: when peers who can vouch for the speaker’s reasoning and expertise have vetted it.

But in underlining this distinction, Wells cedes an important source of the power and authority still enjoyed by our higher education institutions: the ability to help the world solve its problems, and to engage with it on any terms available. For many academics—and I am thinking now not only of race, Indigenous, and feminist scholars, but also of political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, and economists—academic scholarship is a method that serves their work with communities. It is not a home.

These scholars address issues on the ground, at various levels: Does diversity harm trust between citizens? Do single young men have a higher propensity to violence? Why did Donald Trump win? What happens to our health when we live in dense urban environments? None of these questions can be answered within the confines of one discipline; the principle of academic freedom protects even as it polices the boundaries of knowledge.

The world outside the university is increasingly impatient with this narrow, nuanced expertise. It wants simplified analogies (lobster, anyone?) to fill the treasure chest of infinite content to which we have grown accustomed. It seems too late to invoke civility as a response. The conversation outside the university may be misinformed, xenophobic, homophobic, and misogynist, but it carries on, regardless of who is participating.

In the wake of the Lindsay Shepherd incident, Wilfrid Laurier University released a statement on freedom of expression. It, too, stresses the role of the university as an environment of scholarship, and not as a public square. At the same time, it notes that on campus, free expression will be more challenging. That’s where experts are needed: to show the value of speech by talking sense over the ravings of the mob.

Simona Chiose
Toronto, Ontario


In his very interesting review, Ira Wells questions the centrality of freedom of expression to the mission of universities, and argues that some commentators—myself included—ignore the distinction between academic freedom and freedom of expression.

In a CBC opinion piece about the Wilfrid Laurier University-Lindsay Shepherd affair, I wrote that Laurier failed to defend Shepherd’s academic freedom or freedom of expression. Wells notes that my claim “suggests that those two concepts are interchangeable, as though ‘academic freedom’ is simply the name we give to ‘free speech’ when it is employed by academics.”

While academic freedom and freedom of expression are distinct concepts—a fact that my explicit use of both terms readily implies—they are fundamentally related. The former is broader, in that it expressly encapsulates protections for the research and teaching functions of university faculty, including the freedom to engage in lines of inquiry and control over teaching and course content (within the limits of disciplinary and programmatic needs).

Wells notes that free expression protections are missing from most university mission statements and strategic mandate agreements. Yet freedom of expression is an integral component of academic freedom, and it is a shame Wells did not look further for evidence that universities ingrain this value in their governance documents and policies. Wells relies on the Universities Canada statement on academic freedom to support his own framing of the concept, a statement that presents a far more narrow vision of academic freedom than that of other post-secondary umbrella organizations and most universities. (My Waterloo colleague Shannon Dea has done excellent work collecting these statements on her Daily Academic Freedom blog, dailyacademicfreedom.wordpress.com.)

The statement on academic freedom from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, for example, not only explicitly refers to freedom of expression but also includes “freedom from institutional censorship.” (Notably, it also applies the concept to all academic staff.) The University of Toronto, where Wells teaches, enshrines academic freedom in the “memorandum of agreement” between the university’s governing council and its faculty association. The agreement notes that academic freedom “involves the right to investigate, speculate, and comment without reference to prescribed doctrine, as well as the right to criticize the University of Toronto and society at large.” It also includes freedom from institutional censorship.

In short, academic freedom is at stake when universities stifle free expression precisely because the former relies so fundamentally on the latter.

Emmett Macfarlane
Associate Professor, Department of Political Science
University of Waterloo


Professor Macfarlane claims that academic freedom is a “broader” concept than the freedom of speech. It is in fact narrower, since much of what is protected on free speech grounds—that slavery was a choice, that Kim Jung Il invented the hamburger, or whatever—cannot appeal to academic freedom protections. Macfarlane implicitly recognizes this in his parenthetical mention of the “limits of disciplinary and programmatic needs.” Clearly, free speech is not subject to such disciplinary “limits,” though Macfarlane is correct to suggest that academic freedom is.

Professor Macfarlane challenges my “narrow vision” of academic freedom with reference to the “memorandum of agreement” between the University of Toronto’s governing council and its faculty association. He quotes the agreement’s assertion that academic freedom “involves the right to investigate, speculate, and comment without reference to prescribed doctrine.” He does not quote a following sentence, which, in part, situates academic “freedom in pursuing research and scholarship and in publishing.” The second sentence exists for a reason. Academic freedom protects the freedom to do academic work: specifically, work that is recognized as “research” and “scholarship” and other activities undertaken in the “pursuit of truth, the advancement of learning, and the dissemination of knowledge.” Of course academic freedom must include freedom from institutional censorship—who would suggest otherwise? But academic freedom becomes “academic” freedom through adherence to institutional norms: disciplinary standards or “limits” that clarify the lines separating “research” and “scholarship” from opinion, belief, or superstition. It is precisely through upholding the line separating the former from the latter that universities can (in Simona Chiose’s phrase above) “show the value of speech by talking sense over the ravings of the mob.”

Ira Wells
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “What's wrong with modern men?,” by Jack Urwin

Re: “What’s wrong with modern men?,” by Jack Urwin

This is an important conversation that needs more people to join in. As Urwin says at the beginning of his review, this conversation centers around one question: “What’s wrong with
modern men?”

My father died by suicide in September 2017. He was seventy-five years old. My dad came from a generation where no one talked about mental illness or suicide. Men, in particular, showed no vulnerability to any struggle. To show any emotion was to appear weak. I never saw my father cry. In fact, my father never told me he loved me until I left home at age twenty. Unfortunately, my experience with my father is not out of the ordinary.

Sadly, neither is my father’s suicide. In Canada the suicide rate is three to four times higher for men than for women. There has not been much of a conversation about this by either health officials or the media. Actually, aside from so-called “men’s rights” groups, no one is talking much about these trends. (Even then it’s dealt with in a superficial way.) According to these groups, the issue is that men are dying and no one cares because we’re too caught up in the feminist narrative fed to us by mainstream culture.

But no one seems to be asking why men are dying by suicide at such a higher rate than females. Why do men select more violent methods of suicide? What does this say about us?

What are we to do? I firmly believe that these books, and Urwin’s review, are important steps in the right direction. Because talking is healing. The more of us that talk about this, the better it is for men, and young boys in particular. But it not just a men’s issue—it’s a societal one. We are all impacted regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

So let’s keep the conversation going.

Rev. Robert Cooke
St. Mark’s Anglican Church
St. John’s, Newfoundland


Re: “What’s wrong with modern men?,” by Jack Urwin

When we talk about masculinity in everyday parlance, we are really talking about “toxic masculinity.” And if it is not toxic masculinity one might be familiar with, then it is “healthy masculinities.” Whatever the terms being bantered about, it is not surprising to see the recent publication of three books that glance inward to explore the “crisis of masculinity.” Urwin’s review is perhaps driven by a public appetite to rethink masculinity and, in some way, find the answers to a perplexing problem.

But what exactly is the problem with boys that we yearn to understand? Do fatherless boys make violent men? Are boys born naturally aggressive? Violent? More compellingly perhaps, can we raise boys to be unlike the rest of the boys? Can we nurture boys that are sensitive yet competitive, courageous yet vulnerable?

This series of questions is timely in a bleak landscape that has recently seen repeated disturbing incidents of aggression and despair from boys and men. Collectively the books may offer hints of optimism about rethinking masculinity, glimpses into different masculinities, windows from which to peer into the worlds of some boys—but they will not offer answers.

Readers can see that there are competing and indeed overlapping masculinities. Whether they are raised by a single mother as I was, or raised by two mothers (or indeed two fathers), boys can and will respond to a multitude of ways for learning what it means to be a man. Boys are not restricted, doomed, or biologically hard-wired to be one way, even though some may believe that to be the case. The fact that some boys have no fathers should not leave anyone in despair. Masculinities are complicated and messy. Rethinking masculinity means challenging what has gone un-challenged in order to think differently about how boys learn to be certain kinds of men.

Michael Kehler
Research Professor of Masculinities in Education, Werklund School of Education
Calgary, Alberta


Re: “The PM as dictator,” by Paul Wells

We are fortunate that Ian Brodie has written a book about his experiences as chief of staff in Stephen Harper’s PMO. Too few former staffers do this kind of thing, which leaves a gap in our collective understanding of how politics works.

The perspective of political staff is not well understood because, in their jobs, they do not speak with their own voice. Instead, they either don’t speak at all or speak only on behalf of their ministers. They serve at pleasure; they hold no authority of their own and do not enjoy the job security that protects public servants—nor should they. A staffer’s actions are legitimate only to the extent that they are directed by the appropriate minister. Ministerial responsibility, a constitutional convention in Canada, requires ministers—not political staff—to account for the decisions taken by their offices. In this context of concentrated power, a successful staffer is loyal, strategic, networked, thick-skinned, and remarkably tight-lipped.

In his book, Brodie reclaims his voice to offer an explanatory defence of concentrated power and central coordination. It is a perspective that merits consideration, particularly given his unique vantage point. Many political observers, on different sides of the ideological divide, have lamented the negative implications of concentrated power in our parliamentary system. Brodie’s account provides something of a counter-argument, or at least an alternative narrative. Even those who find his arguments unconvincing will benefit from his bringing them forward.

His book raises the question: Should we be more nuanced in our descriptions and analyses of concentrated power? It is easy to find evidence for the argument that the Canadian prime minister has too many levers of power, with very few effective checks to act as counterbalances. It is more difficult (not to mention time-consuming) to take account of the imperatives behind concentrated power and to establish a litmus test for distinguishing between its use and abuse. It is no doubt a thankless job to provide a defence of concentrated power (I admit I’ve never tried it), but in so doing Brodie has made an important contribution.

Lori Turnbull
Interim Director, School of Public Administration
Dalhousie University


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