|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
GRADE EXPLANATION: The University earns a D for its policies. There is a clearly stated commitment to free speech. The university does not have an anti-disruption policy which prohibits students (and other people) from blocking, obstructing, disrupting or interrupting speech (e.g. events, displays) on campus. The University has at least one speech code. The university provides funding and other resources to groups, departments, committees, commissions or other bodies that engage in ideological advocacy. The University earns an F for its practices. The University failed to prevent protesters from disrupting a scheduled panel/lecture event in the 2016/2017 year.
McMaster University states that its mission is “the discovery, communication, and preservation of knowledge.” McMaster’s Academic Freedom Statement states:
McMaster University is dedicated to the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. Its members enjoy certain rights and privileges essential to these twin objectives. Central among these rights and privileges is the freedom, within the law, to pursue what seem to them fruitful avenues of inquiry; to teach and to learn unhindered by external or non-academic constraints; and to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion.
This freedom extends not only to members of the university but to all who are invited to participate in its forum. All members of the University must recognize this fundamental principle and must share responsibility for supporting, safeguarding and preserving this central freedom. Behaviour which obstructs free and full discussion, not only of ideas which are safe and accepted but of those which may be unpopular or even abhorrent, vitally threatens the integrity of the University, and cannot be tolerated.
Suppression of academic freedom would prevent the University from carrying out its primary functions. In particular, as an autonomous institution McMaster University is protected from any efforts by the state or its agents to limit or suppress academic freedom. Likewise, neither officers of the University nor private individuals may limit or suppress academic freedom.
The common good of society depends upon the search for knowledge and its free exposition. Academic freedom does not require neutrality on the part of the individual; on the contrary, academic freedom makes commitment to a position or course of action possible. Academic freedom carries with it the duty to use that freedom in a manner consistent with the scholarly obligation to base research and teaching on an honest search for knowledge.
The Student Group Recognition Document states that any group can register to be a club, and any club can book rooms. Section 22 states:
The University will not attempt to monitor or review the activities of a student group recognized under this policy in the normal course of events. It will however investigate complaints or charges that as such a group has acted in a manner that is inconsistent with its constitution or with the requirements of this policy or with any other University policy.
McMaster's Anti-Discrimination Policy states that “discrimination and harassment … are prohibited at McMaster University and constitute punishable offenses under this policy”. Harassment is defined as, “engagement in a course of vexatious comments or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known, to be unwelcome.” Although such a policy could threaten a person's free speech rights, this document takes special care to outline that the Anti-Discrimination Policy “should be read in conjunction with McMaster University's Statement on Academic Freedom” and that:
McMaster University recognizes that as an academic and free community it must uphold its fundamental commitments to academic freedom and to freedom of expression and association. It will maintain an environment in which students and teaching and non- teaching staff can engage in free enquiry and open discussion of all issues.
McMaster University has an Office of Human Rights and Equity Services, which “ensures that the Sexual Harassment Policy, Anti-Discrimination Policy and Accessibility Policy are administered effectively and fairly.
Both the Anti-Discrimination and Sexual Harassment policies take special care to outline that McMaster’s Academic Freedom Statement should always be upheld. The Sexual Harassment policies and procedures state that:
McMaster University recognises that as an academic and free community it must uphold its fundamental commitments to academic freedom and to freedom of expression and association. It will maintain an environment in which students and teaching and non-teaching staff can engage in free enquiry and open discussion of all issues. The Sexual Harassment Officer, like all other officers of the University, is obliged to uphold academic freedom, and freedom of expression and association.
McMaster’s Student Code of Conduct prohibits “engaging in verbal or non-verbal behaviour or communication toward an individual or group which is considered to be intimidating, harassing and/or discriminatory, and in a manner that exceeds the bounds of freedom of expression.”
On March 17, 2017, a debate took place at McMaster University on the subject of gender identity, political correctness and free expression. The debate, which was to include three McMaster professors and University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, was disrupted by students and protestors who used tactics including clanging cowbells, blowing air horns and chanting to drown out Peterson’s remarks. One individual was seen blowing an air horn very close to Peterson's ear. Another person reportedly threw glitter on Peterson's face and suit. Eventually, Dr. Peterson retreated outside the hall, where he continued speaking while standing on a bench.
One day prior to the event taking place, the President's Advisory Committee on Building an Inclusive Community issued a statement which read that it was "deeply troubled that Dr. Jordan Peterson has been invited to speak at McMaster."
McMaster University failed to provide adequate security to ensure the debate could proceed as organized. In the week following this incident, McMaster University’s president, Patrick Deane, issued a statement upholding free expression, wherein he stated:
I said in a recent interview with students that the most serious thing I have to do in my role as President is to defend the principle of academic freedom. The freedom to research, consider, discuss and present even the most controversial or potentially divisive issues is a fundamental tenet of academic freedom, and the foundation of the work and mission of the academy. In the same interview, I also made the comment that defending academic freedom is not always easy to do. The events of last Friday surrounding the "Drawing the Line" student-organized event provide a perfect demonstration of this difficulty. The University received multiple communications both before and after the event from individuals and groups writing either in support of or in opposition to the speaker. The University was variously invited to shut down the event, to silence anticipated protests, to make public statements denouncing the speaker, and to make similar statements denouncing those expressing their opposition to the speaker.
As President I chose to do none of those things. The event was framed and organized as a discussion of political correctness and freedom of speech on campus, which I regard as an important and entirely appropriate topic for discussion at an institution of higher learning. The fundamental mission of the University is to provide opportunities for education, both within and beyond the classroom. Taking the opportunity to listen to a speaker, even one with whom one may vehemently disagree, is an important aspect of education and a cornerstone of academic debate. It has not, therefore, been my approach, nor that of this University, to intervene to shut down events, exclude speakers, or prevent discussion of issues, even where controversial topics are under discussion.
In clearly affirming the commitment of this University to protecting the expression of diverse opinions on our campus, I also want to be absolutely unequivocal in expressing our support for the diversity of our campus community, and our commitment to the rights of minority groups, including trans- and gender-non-conforming members of our community, in particular. I am in no doubt that our University, like our society, is only enriched and strengthened by the diversity of people and opinions on our campus. As such, the presence on campus of a speaker who may challenge the rights of any particular group should not be seen as undermining the University’s commitment to inclusivity but merely as an opportunity to explore and debate the topics under discussion.
Indeed, an important aspect of academic freedom is the willingness and ability to engage with and discuss ideas that might be fundamentally opposed to one’s own. It is extremely regrettable that the events of last Friday do not reflect the standard of academic debate that we would aspire to model on our campus but this does not mean that as an institution we should ever seek to limit the right of members of our community and visitors to our campus to engage in peaceful protest. In the event that the tactics employed by such protestors violate the laws of our land, or the codes of conduct of our community, appropriate sanctions can and will be applied, but our commitment to academic freedom requires that, except in the most extreme cases, the cancellation of events, or the exclusion or removal of particular individuals will not be our response.
I would hope that all members of our community are united in our pursuit of knowledge, our belief in the power and importance of education, and our mission to protect the free flow of ideas within an inclusive and respectful environment. As members of the academy, we bear a shared responsibility to reaffirm and uphold the core principles of academic freedom, collegiality, and respect that are fundamental to McMaster and to ensure that our University continues to be a place where respectful debate and discussion can flourish.
On January 23, 2014, McMaster University suspended students involved in the “redsuits” - a sub-unit of the McMaster Engineering Society (MES), over what it alleges was sexist, violent and degrading material. All non-academic MES events that involved alcohol were suspended pending an investigation in the matter. MES was also prohibited from conducting orientation activities in the fall of 2014, and is subject to oversight and scrutiny by the University before any future events will be approved. McMaster's Provost and Vice-president Academic David Wilkinson described the material as “repugnant” and further stated:
The University has clear expectations that everyone on campus show respect for each other. The engineering songbook that we have learned about is highly disturbing and is the exact opposite to everything for which the University stands. McMaster is committed to creating an inclusive and safe environment for stu dents, faculty and staff. We and many engineering schools across the country have worked hard for a number of years to build an inclusive student culture. It is clear in this instance, at least here at McMaster, that there is far more work to do. We are committed to ensuring that everyone understand that McMaster will not tolerate such views or behavior.
In 2010, McMaster associate librarian Dale Askey wrote a blog post on his personal website, calling Edwin Mellen Press a “dubious publisher” and criticizing the quality of its works. Of his own volition, Askey removed the post in March of 2012.
In June of 2012, Edwin Mellen Press sued Askey and also McMaster University as a co-defendant, since the University failed to mandate that Askey remove the writing from his website before being hired.
In response to this court action, McMaster University published a statement on February 19, 2013, supporting Askey and re-iterating its defence of academic freedom.
McMaster and one of its librarians have been named in a lawsuit launched by the Edwin Mellen Press. The suit stems from a blog post published in 2010.
In its Statement on Academic Freedom, McMaster University affirms the right of the academic community to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion. Beyond this commitment to teach and learn unhindered by non-academic constraints, the University strongly supports the exercise of free speech as a critical social good.
For this reason, McMaster University has for more than eighteen months rejected all demands and considerable pressure from the Edwin Mellen Press to repudiate the professional opinions of university librarian Dale Askey, notwithstanding the fact that those opinions were published on his personal blog several months before he joined McMaster.
Because of our respect for individual freedom of speech, the University finds itself today a co-defendant with Mr. Askey in a legal action brought by the Edwin Mellen Press.
The University will continue to rigorously defend its commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech as the case proceeds before the courts.
On March 1, 2013, Edwin Mellen Press announced that it would drop the lawsuit against McMaster University, although the lawsuit against Askey continued.
In 2008, during "Israeli Apartheid Week" which took place Feb. 4 – 8, the "Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights" group and the "McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice" group tried to print a poster. On it was the title of the guest speaker and information that he would be speaking on behalf of the "Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid". The McMaster Student Union was not sure whether they were allowed to use the phrase “Israeli Apartheid”, so they turned the decision over to the McMaster Human Rights & Equity Services office, which decided the words could be inflammatory if posted.
McMaster’s Provost and VP – Academic, Ilene Busch-Vishniac, issued a statement attempting to minimize the decision’s effect on the school’s reputation as a haven for free speech, stating:
The University has not initiated a policy as you describe, as it would be counter to the fundamental tenants [sic] of freedom of speech and academic freedom. I believe this misinterpretation of events stems from a university decision to disallow a banner for Israeli Apartheid that a student group wished to display. It was determined that the placement of the banner would be inflammatory. Other activities organized by the student group were permitted. I hope this clarifies McMaster's position.
GRADE EXPLANATION: The student union earns a D for its policies. The student union does not have an express commitment to free speech on campus; the student union has at least one speech code; the student union’s policies in regard to club certification enable unequal treatment of clubs based on beliefs and opinions; the student union’s rules and regulations for elections and referenda impose unfair restrictions on campaign speech and literature; the student union does not take political positions on issues outside its mandate. The student union earns a D for its practices for having failed to condemn the disruption of a student group's display on campus, and working to prevent future displays from taking place.
Section 6.1 of the MSU Operation Policy – “Promotions and Advertising” states that advertising must be in good taste: “Good taste advertising shall be defined as that which does not promote violence, substance abuse, oppressive or discriminatory practices, or contravene the McMaster University Anti-Discrimination Policy or the MSU’s Anti-Oppression Policy.”
If a poster is deemed controversial, then the Underground Media & Design staff must go through a checklist to determine whether or not the content is “acceptable”.
Students running for election must abide by the MSU Operation Policy – Promotions and Advertising as well.
The MSU’s Anti-Oppression Policy states:
As a student union, it is our duty to take note of these inequalities in power and hierarchies that exist within the McMaster community, as well as to take action in order to eradicate them. Together, we must work as a community to challenge the social inequality embedded in people’s attitudes and value systems and challenge the social institutions that re-create disempowerment for some and privilege for others. To do so, the McMaster Student Union must act as a catalyst, by sparking individuals to critically analyze their perceptions and assumptions, as well as to recognize the power imbalances that continue to exist on our campus. Let us create a campus of Allies who stand in solidarity with equity-seeking groups. Through our joint efforts, we will work toward the equalization of power relationships and the elimination of all forms of oppression.
In 2017, the McMaster Student Union failed to condemn the failure of the University provide adequate security for a debate on political correctness and free expression.
In a past case, the McMaster Student Union was faced with a controversial decision on the subject of free speech and deferred to the McMaster Human Rights & Equity Services (see the “Israeli Apartheid” controversy, Section 2). The MSU failed to take advantage of an opportunity to make an unequivocal and clear stance in favor of free speech rights of students on campus.