|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
Saint Mary’s University’s (SMU) mission and values statements do not reference academic freedom or free expression, but SMU’s Academic Plan states:
We recognize that the common good of society depends on knowledge and its free exposition. As the foundation of our mission, Saint Mary’s University, through our teaching and scholarship, values discovery and dissemination of knowledge in all its forms.
Recognizing knowledge as provisional and subject to reinterpretation, we base our scholarly enquiry on principles of academic integrity and academic freedom, the freedom of students and faculty to explore and assess different approaches and contributions to human knowledge. Academic freedom is the foundation of the intellectual community, which fosters independent critical thinking, informed judgment and expression, and open debate.
SMU’s Policy on the Prevention and Resolution of Harassment and Discrimination (Discrimination Policy) has three objectives:
To prevent discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment, on grounds protected by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act
To provide procedures for handling complaints, remedying situations, and imposing discipline when such discrimination and harassment do occur
To use best practices in Conflict Resolution or Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR)
The Discrimination Policy continues:
This policy applies to all members of the University community, including students, administrators, faculty and staff as well as permanent sub-contractors, consultants, volunteers and others who are acting in a recognized or sanctioned capacity. It applies to incidents that occur in the course of work or study or participation in University sponsored events held on campus, at a satellite campus or learning center, or off-campus. Examples of off-campus settings include, but are not limited to field trips, athletic team road trips, conferences or training events, and university- sponsored social functions.
The Discrimination Policy is intended to allow professors and students to learn about controversial ideas, so long as discussion is in a “mutually respectful” and “non-coercive” manner, as per this reference on page 14 of the Discrimination Policy:
This policy is not to be applied in such a way as to detract from the right of faculty, staff and students to engage in the frank discussion of potentially controversial matters. This policy is not intended to limit or prohibit debate, instructional techniques, or the assignment of readings that advocate controversial positions, provided that discussion and instruction are conducted in a mutually respectful and non-coercive manner. This policy also recognizes the right to teach according to one’s best judgment, within the bounds of the course calendar description and requirements of competency.
Item 3 of the Campus Aesthetics Policy states:
Facilities Management shall approve the placement of all banners, bulletin boards, posters, signage and other general advertisement type items on the campus. Facilities Management shall approve the distribution of magazines, papers and flyers on campus.
The Poster Policy, which is administered jointly by Facilities Management and the Saint Mary’s University’s Student Association (SMUSA), restricts posters from being placed on campus “which could damage the reputation of the university”.
SMU’s Code of Student Conduct includes as Misconduct, “the use of abusive or offensive language or gestures at University sponsored functions.” It also prohibits “[c]onduct which threatens or endangers the health, safety or well-being of anyone in their capacity as a member of the university community on or off campus.”
The Code provides a disruption clause, prohibiting “[i]ntentional obstruction or disruption of any University sponsored function, including disciplinary proceedings held in accordance with these regulations.”
Saint Mary’s University has no policies which explicitly empower officials to impose security fees on students holding events on controversial subject matter.
On January 27, 2014, a University of King’s College journalism publication reported on tweets made by members of SMU’s football team which condemned homosexuality, mocked sexual consent, and degraded women and racial minorities. One of the tweets said “bitch get on yo knees” while another said “See a girl feeling down? Feel her up.” SMU suspended six of its football players because of the tweets, and noted that comments made in social media will be covered by SMU’s Code of Student Conduct.
Following the “rape-chant” incident involving SMUSA leaders, on September 6, 2013, SMU announced it would be hearing disciplinary charges against two students involved in the chants, alleging that they had violated section 7(b) of the Student Code of Conduct. SMU’s statement reads:
Two student organizers will face a disciplinary hearing following an orientation week event involving a sexually inappropriate chant at Saint Mary’s University. A formal complaint was received Friday, September 6. The complaint alleges violations of the Student Code of Conduct for the use of abusive or offensive language or gestures at University sponsored functions…As per University policy, the names of the individuals involved will not be released.
SMU will not publish the results of the disciplinary hearing.
On February 5, 2009, Jose Ruba of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform gave a pro-life speech at SMU. Protesters filled the auditorium on campus and were so loud that Ruba was forced to write his messages on a computer and use a projector screen to communicate with the audience. SMU Security did nothing to restrain or silence the disruptive protesters, except to notify police of what was happening. When three police officers arrived, they were able to settle the crowd, but after the police left the protestors became disruptive once again. The protestors refused to leave the auditorium, and Ruba himself ended up leaving the building and finishing his speech in a church on the edge of campus, which is not part of SMU property.
The university issued a press release on February 9 describing the need to move the event to the nearby church “regrettable,” but SMU President Colin Dodds expressly refused to invite Jose Ruba back to campus to provide him with a fair opportunity to present his views without disruption. The release also stated the university was reviewing the incident, although no findings have ever been made public.
In February of 2006, a now retired SMU philosophy professor, Peter March, posted the well-known “Danish cartoon” about the prophet Mohammed to his office door. He was ordered to take down the cartoon by the academic president and vice president. March was also charged security fees by the University when he tried to host a lecture on campus about Islam and Democracy. Another philosophy professor, Dr. Mark Mercer (an outspoken supporter of free speech on campus), defended his fellow professor, but was unable to change the minds of the SMU administration.
The Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association (SMUSA) does not take positions on political issues outside its mandate.
The Organizational Values Policy states that “[SMUSA] will defend the rights of students in order to ensure that individuals being [sic] treated fairly and equally in a safe environment.”
The Student Societies Policy of SMUSA states that “the PRESIDENT may make further rules and regulations that she/he deems necessary, provided they are consistent with the Constitution and these policies.”
The Poster Policy, which is administered jointly by Facilities Management and the Saint Mary’s University’s Student Association, restricts posters from being placed on campus “which could damage the reputation of the university”.
SMUSA’s Election Policy empowers the Chief Returning Officer to censor “obscene, degrading or discriminatory material.” It also states that “a sense of humour can exist.” The Policy also allows campaign materials to be banned if they depict a person other than the candidate sponsoring the material.
The Saint Mary’s Student Association (SMUSA) made national headlines in September 2013 after a video was posted on social media showing first-year students and others chanting about the rape of underage girls. The chant spelled out the word “young” with “U is for underage, N is for no consent” and included the line, “SMU boys, we like them young.”
In the wake of the incident, two SMUSA executives, including its president, apologized and resigned. Two students faced disciplinary action by the University (see section 2 of this report).
In September of 2012, SMUSA did not allow the registered student group, SMUdent Gaming Society, to advertise their upcoming social event because of the image of a pistol contained on the advertisement poster. The poster, which was designed to attract new students who enjoyed gaming to join the society, contained images of a Nintendo game controller, as well as a Zapper, a gray-and-red electronic pistol that came with the 1985 Nintendo Entertainment System. SMUSA executive Michael MacDonnell explained the student union’s decision to censor the poster:
What we have to remember here is that a picture speaks 1,000 words, it crosses all language barriers. And, that being said, a picture depicting or making light of gun violence is something that we as an association are not willing to endorse.
MacDonnell further commented that, “We, as SMUSA, the students association here, have a responsibility to our students as well as our societies to ensure that everything remains tasteful and appropriate.”
In September of 2012, SMUSA did not allow the registered student group, SMUdent Gaming Society, to advertise their upcoming social event because of the image of a pistol contained on the advertisement poster. The poster, which was designed to attract new students who enjoyed gaming to join the society, contained images of a Nintendo game controller, as well as a Zapper, a gray-and-red electronic pistol that came with the 1985 Nintendo Entertainment System. SMUSA executive Michael MacDonnell explained the student union’s decision to censor the poster: "What we have to remember here is that a picture speaks 1,000 words, it crosses all language barriers. And, that being said, a picture depicting or making light of gun violence is something that we as an association are not willing to endorse." MacDonnell further commented that, “We, as SMUSA, the students association here, have a responsibility to our students as well as our societies to ensure that everything remains tasteful and appropriate.”
In November 2010, SMUSA President Matt Anderson ordered a pro-life club’s authorized display be removed from campus. Anderson ordered a sign that read “Women Do Regret Abortion” to be removed because of complaints from students that they had been offended by the message. In a letter to the campus paper, the Journal, Anderson stated that the sign violated SMUSA’s mission statement: “To maximize the positive university experience for its students and provide assistance in overcoming the challenges they may face.” He further stated that the sign had to be removed because of the “absolutist nature” of the message, eluding that if the sign had read “Some Women Regret Abortion” instead, it wouldn’t have been removed. The students complied with the actions of SMUSA, but did so under protest.