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U of C drafting government-mandated statement on free expression

By Gayathri Peringod, October 10 2019—

The University of Calgary is currently drafting their government-mandated statement on free expression, to be released in December 2019. 

During this week’s Students’ Legislative Council meeting held on Tuesday evening, elected student representatives of the Students’ Union listened to a presentation from university provost and vice president academic Dru Marshall and general counsel of the university’s legal services Karen Jackson, who asked members of the council to state their opinions on the drafted statement regarding free expression and to ask questions.

Earlier this year, the United Conservative Party mandated that all postsecondary institutions in the province create a statement on free expression that complies with a document on free expression developed in 2014 by the University of Chicago. Dubbed the Chicago Principles, these standards of free expression defend the right of controversial lecturers and groups to speak on campuses without censorship. The document has since been adopted by a number of universities in the United States and recently in Canada as the standard for free expression on campuses.

The document states that speakers must be allowed to say what they like on campuses, no matter how “unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive” their words are. The U of C’s statement on free expression is expected to align with the sentiments expressed by the Chicago Principles. 

Speaking to the need for such a statement, Marshall highlighted a recent board meeting discussion regarding a controversial speaker on campus. 

“I think we should have controversial speakers on our campus […] we should be presenting alternative points of view, those that might be unpopular or otherwise offensive,” Marshall stated, going on to clarify that the university must also represent all sides of the issue in such a circumstance.  

SU President Jessica Revington helped develop the draft for the statement along with members of campus administration staff. When asked whether the statement on free expression serves a secondary purpose other than complying with the government-issued mandate, Revington stated that the committee is “working under a directive from the Alberta government. This is not a choice. … [This is] independent of whether existing policies at the University of Calgary already cover concerns related to free expression.”

Marshall expressed in her presentation that if breached, the statement will not have any binding repercussions on the violator, apart from the consequences of violating existing university policies on harassment or the student code of conduct. 

“It’s not a policy per se, but it is supposed to speak to all the policies that we have,” Marshall stated during the meeting. 

According to Revington, any student that has suggestions for the drafted statement on free expression can voice them to her so that she can inform the group that is drafting the statement. 

“I am a direct line to the committee,” she added. 

The statement is expected to be on the university website by Dec. 15, 2019. 

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