|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
St. Francis Xavier University’s (StFX) Community Code lays out general rules of behaviour, as well as the rights and responsibilities of students. Students are expected to uphold “the responsibility not to indulge in behavior that has serious ramifications for the safety, welfare and academic well-being of yourself and others.” None of these terms are defined.
Section 14(f) of the Code includes the following as a major offense:
Using abusive, sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise derogatory language in either verbal or written form, or gesture in the course of his or her interactions with another Student, Guest, or University Official
The StFX’s Student Conduct Coordinator enforces the Community Code, and is empowered to facilitate informal resolution processes. Informal resolution processes refer to “off the record” mediation, counseling, educational workshops, discussions, and the like. The Coordinator is not empowered to impose sanctions on students such as censorship or punishment for speaking on a controversial topic.
StFX’s Discrimination and Harassment Policy Section 1.2 protects political and religious groups on campus by including “political belief, affiliation or identity” as prohibited grounds for discrimination. Section 9 states that the Discrimination and Harassment Policy should not interfere with free speech and academic freedom, but does impose the requirement that such expression be “mutually respectful and non-coercive”:
This Policy shall not be applied in such a way as to detract from the right to engage in the frank discussion of potentially controversial matters, including, but not limited to age, race, politics, religion, sex and sexual orientation. These are legitimate topics within the University setting, and this Policy shall not be applied so as to have the effect of limiting appropriate discussion of them or of prohibiting bona fide instructional techniques, such as the use of irony, the use of conjecture and refutation, or the assignment of readings that advocate controversial positions, provided that such discussion and instruction are conducted in a mutually respectful and non-coercive manner.
Sections 1.3, 1.4 and 1.5 of the Discrimination and Harassment Policy define harassment to include being made to feel “offended or unwelcome”. Section 1.4 goes on to say that verbal harassment may be deliberate or unintentional.
StFX’s Risk Assessment Policy outlines procedures and regulations that students and student groups must comply with in order to access space for an event on campus. Applicants must submit a detailed overview of their event, including the intent and composition of the event, as well as advertising and other promotional materials. Applicants must include an assessment of the level of risk associated with their event. According to the Policy, risk can include an assessment of “emotional harm” to an attendee.
The Risk Management Committee enforces the Risk Assessment Policy. It decides if an event gets approved after the student group has informed the Committee whether they think the event carries a high, medium or low risk level. The Committee is effectively empowered to decide that an event is too risky because of the content or message of the expression at the event.
On February 10, 2009, the student group Students for Life invited pro-life author and lecturer Jose Ruba to speak at StFX. The club’s president, Lara Lavelle, commended the University administration for ensuring that the event was able to take place. Ruba’s presentation at neighboring Saint Mary’s University in Halifax a week earlier had to be cancelled at its original location due to protesters making Ruba’s talk impossible to hear.
In light of the controversy at St. Mary’s University, StFX administration made apparent efforts to ensure that Ruba’s presentation on February 10 would not be stopped by similar protests. Campus security personnel were ordered to monitor the event so that the presentation could run without interruption.
On December 11, 2006, tenured StFX professor Shiraz Dossa attended a conference sponsored by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, titled “International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust,” in Tehran. More than 1200 attended, and the event included 44 speakers and 33 papers on the subject of the Holocaust.
On December 13, 2006, StFX University President Sean Riley released the following statement:
I express my shock and regret that the name of St. Francis Xavier University has been associated with the recent “conference” in Tehran due to the presence of a member of University faculty. The gathering, in its origins and focus, contained elements that are deeply abhorrent to the St. Francis Xavier University community and the traditions of our 153 years of history…Members of University faculty, in Canada at least, have the freedom of inquiry and speech which is part of our democracy. They do not, however, speak for the University…This conference has rightly been condemned in no uncertain terms by our Prime Minister on behalf of all Canadians. The StFX community and I join in this condemnation.
The St. FX Students’ Union’s Advertising Policy states that, “The Union will not accept any advertising that is racist, sexist, homophobic, or discriminatory in anyway. Businesses that foster discrimination will be banned from Union publications.” The Advertising Policy empowers the Union to disapprove advertising based on the content of its message, without a specific definition of what could be considered “sexist, homophobic, or discriminatory”.
The Elections Act empowers the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) to establish the rules and procedures governing Union elections:
The Returning Officers under the supervision of the Chair of Council have complete authority over elections held by the Union. Any concerns or appeals brought through other channels in the Union shall be considered completely invalid. By empowering the CRO and Council to establish rules governing elections, the Union risks enabling such officials to censor candidates’ posters, speeches and events based on its content.
The Union’s Gender Issues Policy allows for censorship of materials judged sexist by Union officials, stating that “[t]he Union condemns sexism, is opposed to the distribution of any sexist material, and pledges to document incidences of sexism on our campus.”
The Union’s Poster Policy also uses ambiguous language to empower Union officers to censor any materials they consider offensive:
…Any publicity that is to be posted must be approved by the appropriate Union Executive.
No material that is slanderous, offensive, harassing, discriminatory, etc. will be permitted.
Failure to comply with this policy will result in the removal of the poster as well as possible disciplinary action by means of the Community Code.
The Society Policy prohibits the Union from funding “partisan political groups”, thereby discriminating against political party campus clubs. The Society Policy also bans communications material that the Union deems offensive, and empowers the Vice President of Student Relations to make decisions regarding which messages are considered appropriate:
It is the society leader’s responsibility to ensure that all publicity material is approved by the VP Student Relations before being posted. All material must bear the society name. Material that is offensive, harassing, discriminatory, etc. will not be approved and is at the discretion of the VP Student Relations. Placement of publicity items must only be on bulletin boards in academic buildings unless otherwise specified. Failure to comply to the Union Poster Policy will result in the removal of the poster.
The authors are not aware of cases of the Students’ Union denying equal access to University facilities, and are not aware of any evidence that the Union is not “content neutral” with the way it treats clubs, speakers, and listeners in practice.