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The importance of free speech in post secondary institutions

Langara instructor Kent Schmor said free speech can aid a student's growth and learning experience

Kent Schmor, instructor at Langara. Photo by Agazy Mengesha
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Reported by Agazy Mengesha

Protecting students’ right to free speech on campus means they will sometimes encounter ideas they feel are deeply disagreeable, said Langara philosophy instructor Kent Schmor.

Schmor said while post-secondary institutions should protect students from bodily or psychological harm, exposing students to different views can be part of a student’s growth and learning.

“You might face some views that seem crazy to you…Rather than trying to shut it down, why not just see this as an opportunity to learn?” Schmor said.

Free speech a hot topic on campuses

In light of recent free speech controversies on campuses across North America, Schmor will be delivering a lecture next month on the subject of free speech as part of the philosophy department’s ‘Philosophers’ Jam’ lecture series. He hopes to encourage students to discuss how their right to free speech might be applied in real life.

Cases of students being challenged on their charter rights — or challenging the rights of others — have loomed large in media coverage recently.

UC Berkeley, famous for its long history of student protest, made headlines last year when a student riot erupted in response to a scheduled appearance by right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos.

At Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, a teaching assistant named Lindsay Shepherd was reprimanded for showing her students a video of a right-wing professor’s refusal to address transgender students by their preferred pronoun.

The reprimand was eventually dismissed, but the incident sparked nation-wide debates on the limits of free speech.

Thoughts on freedom of expression

Katharine Browne, also a philosophy instructor at Langara, believes universities should not censor free speech.

“Students have the right to free speech as do their instructors, and … the right to an education that’s not limited by any kinds of restrictions on freedom of expression,” Browne said.

Paul Quirk, the Phil Lind chair of U.S. politics and representation at UBC, said it’s important to encourage students to think through where they stand on free speech and its limits before they find that right challenged.

“Students who have a good exposure to the legal and philosophical background of free speech would be much more reliable supporters of free speech once a controversy arose,” Quirk said.

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