|Student Union Policies
|Student Union Practices
Western University, formerly the University of Western Ontario, passed a new Policy on Freedom of Expression in November 2018. The Policy states:
The exercise of free expression may generate controversy and disputes. The role of the University is to provide an open and inclusive environment in which debate, challenge and disagreement should be expected, and controversial and offensive ideas may be advanced. Although members of the University community are free to contest, criticize or even condemn the views expressed by others, they cannot prevent the freedom of others to express their views.
Of necessity, there are limits to freedom of expression as established by law and in recognition of the rights of others. This freedom does not extend to expression that is, for example, prohibited by Canada’s criminal law, such as hate speech or incitement to violence; or which constitutes harassment or discrimination; or violates protected confidentiality interests. The University may be required to intervene when the exercise of freedom of expression exceeds these limits, threatens the physical safety of members of the University community or prevents the exercise of freedom of expression by others. Any such intervention must be interpreted and applied narrowly, and must be sensitive to the particular setting such as a classroom, residence or open space.
In the exercise of free expression, members of the University community are encouraged to consider the value of mutual respect and the possible impact of that expression on others.
Informed, thoughtful, and respectful arguments and exchanges benefit the University community, even and particularly when the disagreement is profound.
The University recognizes that the legitimate exercise of free expression has the potential to shock, anger, intimidate, exclude and contribute to the marginalization of University community members. It can also make it difficult for some people or groups to exercise their own freedom of expression. The University strongly affirms its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Accordingly, it is committed to providing a supportive environment, including counselling and health services, for those who are negatively affected by the exercise of free expression.
The right to free expression is complemented by the rights of freedom of association and assembly. The right to free expression extends to individuals cooperating in groups. University community members have the right to organize groups for any lawful activities and to hold and advertise meetings. They also have the right to engage in peaceful assemblies and demonstrations and to make reasonable use of University facilities in accordance with its policies.
Western University states in its policy Rights and Responsibilities of Academic Freedoms:
Academics frequently express ideas that are at odds with other views within the University, and sometimes with the views of society or government. Academic freedom ensures that such ideas can be expressed without fear of interference or repression from University administrators, politicians, or others…
The University must remain the centre of such free intellectual inquiry and interchange.
The Code of Student Conduct at Western states that “nothing in the Code shall be construed to prohibit peaceful assemblies and demonstrations, lawful picketing, or to inhibit free speech as guaranteed by law.”
Misconduct is defined to include a disruption of an activity as well as the contravention of Western’s Non-Discrimination /Harassment Policy, which defines harassment as “a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.” The policy specifies that harassment does not include expression protected within the bounds of academic freedom.
Western’s policy, Picketing, Distribution of Literature and Related Activities, states that Western University will permit expressions of viewpoints on campus providing that such actions:
(a) cause no interference with the orderly functioning of the University nor infringement on the rights or privileges of others, which rights include the right to peaceful pursuit of campus activities and to enjoy the rule of law; and
(b) do not contravene existing Senate or Board of Governors policies.
Western Equity & Human Rights Services funds ideological advocacy based on vague and ambiguous concepts such as “diversity” and “inclusion.”
In October 2016, during Western University’s Homecoming celebrations, a photo was posted to the social media site Instagram depicting four men in Western t-shirts posing in front of a banner which reads “Western Lives Matter”. That same week, a photo was taken showing a student off-campus house with window markings that read “No means yes, yes means anal.” The postings prompted considerable controversy and condemnation on campus.
On October 4, 2016, Western University issued a statement reading:
Western University has been made aware of a number of images, symbols and slogans that were shared by Western community members through social media over the past weekend.
Specifically images of a banner with the slogan ‘Western Lives Matter’ has produced outrage and backlash within our community. ‘Black Lives Matter’ is an important human rights movement and a powerful response to systemic racism that permeates our society. Co-opting the ‘Lives Matter’ phrase in this way is repugnant and trivializes the validity of this international cause and network.
Western does not tolerate racism. Western University considers the ‘Western Lives Matter’ banner to be contrary to the university’s values. In conjunction with Campus Community Police Service (CCPS) and London Police Service (LPS), Western is investigating this matter to determine whether individuals involved will be dealt with under Western’s Code of Student Conduct.
Senior administration wants to assure the entire Western community that these types of transgressions are hurtful, disrespectful and demeaning. They do, however, provide an opportunity for further conversations with campus leaders and community partners.
Western’s administration, along with the University Students’ Council (USC), Society of Graduate Students (SOGS) and Western’s Equity and Human Rights Services, will work collaboratively with campus and community individuals and groups to create opportunities to examine issues of racism on campus and to further engage in conversation and learning in a productive manner.
As a start, I’d like to acknowledge the video released by USC President Eddy Avila in response to the images from the weekend that included racist sentiments. Western is supportive of his message and looks forward to work in partnership with students to clarify and promote a more positive community environment.
Associate Vice-President (Student Experience)
The investigation concluded that the postings did not constitute a violation of the Code.
On August 19, 2014 Western’s student newspaper, The Gazette, published a satirical article “So you want to date a teaching assistant?” that prompted the union representing teaching assistants at Western to publish a response condemning the decision to publish the article.
Western’s provost and vice president academic, Janice Deakin, published this response in the Gazette:
As with other media, the Gazette has the right to run provocative articles but I find it objectionable that your paper would publish a column promoting the idea that students should attempt to have inappropriate relationships with graduate teaching assistants.
Not only does the spirit of the article run contrary to Western’s efforts to have a workplace and learning environment that is free from sexual harassment, it is disrespectful of the essential contribution graduate teaching assistants make to Western’s academic mission.
Graduate teaching assistants put a great deal of effort into ensuring the content they provide in class is educational, intellectually challenging and engaging. They deserve to be treated professionally and respectfully.
The time is long past when these kinds of articles can be defended as being either satire or humorous. It is my hope that The Gazette leadership will learn from the negative reaction to this particular column and, in future, show more consideration and respect for graduate teaching assistants and others…
The event “Israel Day” was organized by the student group Israel on Campus and held on February 1, 2012. The event included a display promoting Israel, including pamphlets discussing Israel’s record on upholding human rights for its citizens, gender equality, and acceptance of homosexual lifestyles. The event was held at the University Community Centre’s (UCC) “concrete beach,” a large flat area outside the UCC.
News of Israel Day attracted the attention of participants in the Occupy London movement and the UWO student group “Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights,” who organized a counter-protest involving the formation of a “human chain” blocking the Israel on Campus display with signs that were held by the protesters. Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights did not request permission from the University Students Council (USC) to hold its own event, making this an informal, spontaneous protest. The formation of the “human chain” prevented access to the pro-Israel display for many students coming from one direction of the UCC. Volunteers coordinating the “Israel Day” display also reported that they ceased promoting their activities once the chain was formed, out of confusion and worry about what the protesters would do next. Campus Community Police (CCP) was called to monitor the event, but did not stop the physical obstruction of the display. CCP is an administrative unit of Western University.
In October of 2011, a pro-life student group called Western Lifeline organized a chalking event by which members would draw about 200 hearts on concrete (on-campus), with each heart including text that read, “this heart represents a baby who died from abortion.”
The club was told by University administrators (Department of Student Life) that the event would not be approved, stating that they were “not willing to allow you to do this chalking this year because it is unclear who is responsible for the message being presented and they are concerned people would feel it is the USC presenting the message.”
The club then promised to write the club’s name around the display, so that students would not be confused about which organization was sponsoring the event. The University still delayed approval of the event until much later in the fall term, by which time the weather rendered this event practically difficult or impossible.
Also in the fall of 2011, Western Lifeline was denied equal access to prominent space on campus, The Atrium, when it sought to organize an event called “Silent No More,” which features women who speak about their own experiences with abortion. Western’s role in the incident is limited, since space bookings are administered by the University Students Council (USC). However, one Western staff member who is assigned to work with the USC, Mark Wellington, claimed that this Western Lifeline event would violate the USC Community Standards Policy, but provided no explanation as to how or why it would have violated the Policy. Aside from a reference to vague and undefined “community standards,” the University and USC have not provided Western Lifeline with any reason or rationale for the denial of space.
In March of 2010, when some students wanted to prevent controversial American author and pundit Ann Coulter from speaking at the UWO, University President Amit Chamka stated "I support free speech and tolerance in our community. These are the cornerstones of our democratic process. But more importantly, they are fundamental to our teaching and research mission. It's our role to provide a venue for people to express their views.” Ann Coulter’s speech went ahead as planned.
Free expression is not referenced in the Mission, Vision, Values, Areas of Focus, or 2017-2021 Strategic Plan of the Western University Students’ Council (USC).
The Preamble to the USC Advertising Materials Policy reads:
The USC considers freedom of expression to be an essential component of a University environment, but also recognizes that it is necessary to place certain limits on such freedoms in order to maintain a University environment that is safe, inclusive, and free from discrimination and harassment, as well as to ensure compliance with University policies and government regulations. This Policy will define what constitutes Advertising Materials and what is and is not acceptable content.
The Preamble to the USC Community Standards Policy states:
The University Students’ Council seeks to create a community that welcomes creative expression and constructive discussion, while recognizing that reasonable limits must be put in place. In attempting to reach these goals, this policy is twofold. First, the Policy is to ensure that community space within the University Community Centre (UCC) is safe for all members of the University community. Second, the Policy is to ensure that designates of the USC, or student organizations recognized by the USC respect the rights of all members of the University and surrounding community to live and work in an environment that is free from harassment and discrimination. This Policy; therefore, applies to students involved in the USC and affiliated organizations and persons booking space through the USC Reservations Office.
Section 3 of the Community Standards Policy, “Prohibited Conduct”, states:
3.01 Acts of expression within community space, including within the UCC, are strictly
prohibited if such acts:
(1) Are deemed objectionable. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, the following list sets out specific examples of objectionable acts of expression. This list is illustrative only and is not intended to define objectionable acts in exhaustive or exclusive terms.
Policy, or the equivalent Western policy or policies where the USC Policy
is no longer effective;
iii. Causes a disruption: and act that disrupts or obstructs any person or group to carrying out of her or its legitimate activities, or to speak to or associate with others.
person or group;
known) creating a condition that endangers the health, safety, or
well-being of any person;
humiliating or degrading to that person or to others.
The USC Club Bill of Rights, Section 1, is titled “Right of Free Expression”:
1.01 USC-Ratified Clubs shall have the right to free expression, subject to the following terms:
1.02 Other components of the USC shall have full latitude to engage in the discussion on any topic, but direct administration of the clubs system is expected to be done in an ideologically neutral fashion.
The Club Event Planning and Risk Management Procedure states the USC may require a club’s event to have a security presence, and “The Club hosting the event shall be billed for the cost of the security staff at industry market rate.”
The USC has a Best Practices Policy on “Controversial Events”, which states:
Events that could be considered controversial, including, but not limited to, public or private events, speakers, atrium days, protests, etc., must provide a minimum of ten (10) business days notice (2 standard weeks) as the event may require additional approval by the University of Western Ontario. One guide as to whether something is controversial is any event that may result in enquiries to UWO or the USC by the local, regional, or national press. UWO and the USC wish to ensure that they are prepared to answer any questions regarding the event or activity. Secondly, any event that may present public safety concerns would also be considered “controversial”. UWO and the USC require time to review each particular situation and where necessary, make the appropriate preparations to ensure public safety.
The USC’s Elections Bylaw states, under “Approval of Campaign Materials and Activities”:
All printed campaign materials and advertisements require approval by the CRO in advance of posting, printing, and/or distributing.
Campaign material shall only be approved in the immediate leadup to and during the campaign period.
All candidates are required to submit an event proposal to the CRO for approval for any USC elections-related events including, but not limited to, volunteer rallies, campaign rallies, campaign launch parties, and campaign social events. This shall be a requirement for events both on and off of the University’s campus.
The CRO shall provide an event proposal template to be used by candidates at the beginning of the campaign period.
The USC does not take official stances on issues outside its mandate.
In November 2015, in response to news that the Ryerson Students’ Union had denied club status to a campus men’s issues awareness group, USC vice president for student services, Taryn Scripnick, confirmed that the USC would not (hypothetically) follow the same course.
In August 2015, the USC’s Orientation Planning Committee (OPC) released new rules governing uniforms for “sophs”, or orientation leaders. The regulations ban sophs from wearing bandanas, fake dreadlock hair extensions, and “cultural or religious accessories.” The OPC justifies its ban on bandanas by stating that “it may disturb some incoming students that have come from countries where they have been exposed to violence and unrest.” The ban on fake dreadlocks was justified by one member of the OPC by stating that “[sporting] dreadlocked hair as a costume can be seen as mimicking a hairstyle that may have cultural meaning to some – but not all – incoming students."
The student group Israel on Campus organized an event called “Israel Day” to take place on February 1, 2012, including a display promoting awareness of the state of Israel, from a positive point of view (more on the display in “University Practices”). The event attracted the attention of the UWO student group “Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights” which organized a counter-protest involving the formation of a human chain blocking the Israel on Campus display. Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights did not inform USC of their plans to block the display. Members of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights stated in reports of the incident that their actions were peaceful and silent, and denied that they physically blocked the display. Israel Day coordinators, however, insisted in the same report that the “human chain” and signs held in the chain resulted in the blocking of their display.
As a result of holding an unregistered protest, the USC warned Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights that if it repeated the act of holding events and protests without going through the appropriate USC event channels, it would face penalties “ranging from probation to deregistration.” According to Campus Community Police, policies and procedures require a minimum of 10 business days notice for any event deemed “controversial” to be held, so that the USC and the University can make the appropriate preparations such as ensuring a security presence.
USC denied equal access to prominent space on campus, the Atrium, to Western Lifeline in 2011 when it sought to organize an event called “Silent No More,” which features women who speak about their personal experiences with abortion.
The Atrium is a high-traffic area in which a high volume of students pass through during the day. Events, demonstrations, and displays are often and routinely planned there, some of which are considered to be controversial, such as displays during "Israeli Apartied Week."
However, the pro-life club--which had initially been given permission to hold their event in the atrium in years previous--was told by USC executives that they would not be permitted to hold their event in the space, but would have to relocate to more secluded, enclosed and non-traffic area, the Mustang Lounge. Incidentally, the exact same event had been held in the Atrium before without incident. No explanation was provided as to how the students' expression would violate the Community Standards Policy, which is claimed as the basis for the denial.
When the first stop of Ann Coulter’s Canadian tour in March 2010 was being planned for the University of Western Ontario, organizers were faced with continually growing “security” concerns, with various demands issued on short notice. The USC ordered the Campus Coalition for Democracy (the official host club of the Ann Coulter event) to purchase security through the University’s pre-selected vendor, along with two off-duty police officers. The Campus Coalition for Democracy was told that the security requirements were non-negotiable, and that the event would not proceed if the demand were not followed. The total cost was approximately $800.
In November 2004, the USC sanctioned the club Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights after it created a mock wall in the USC premises as a representation of the wall dividing Israel from the Palestinian territories. Included in the display was a map of historical Palestine with the word Palestine in Arabic. The symbol was deemed offensive to Jewish and Israeli students and was considered speech that harassed and targeted students by USC officials. The club was subsequently banned from all student council facilities for two years. It now operates as a fully registered club, although it received a warning in February of 2012 that its club status could be jeopardized.
In the 2018–19 financial year,* Western University received $494,548,000 in taxpayer dollars in the form of government grants. These taxpayer funds accounted for 37.5% of their annual revenue.
*Western University did not make their 2019–20 financial statements available by the time of publication of the 2020 Campus Freedom Index.