Free Speech (7 April 2015)

There was a kerfuffle today regarding the aftermath of the student protest that ‘successfully’ disrupted the 30 March 2015 open session of the Carleton University Board of Governors. The Graduate Students’ Association posted documents (here) regarding this matter. Shortly after the disrupted meeting, several board members, including me, submitted a letter to members of the Board’s executive committee regarding lack of due process and suggestions for moving forward with Board of Governors business. A member of the Board’s executive committee, Michael Wernick (who is deputy clerk of the privy council in his day job) replied to this letter with a seemingly heartfelt but acerbic e-mail. Today, I primarily want to reiterate what I said in my previous posting.

At the 30 March meeting of the Board of Governors, the student protestors put on a gorgeous display of free speech and civil disobedience. At the meeting, the Board of Governors and Carleton University’s upper administration put on an equally impressive display of tolerance of free speech by allowing the disruptive protest. The university police were just as impressive, allowing things to proceed peacefully. As someone who witnessed civil rights protests and protests of the war in Vietnam by Americans, I was deeply impressed by everybody’s restraint at the 30 March 2015 Board of Governors meeting. I may not have agreed with the messages, but was glad to see such passion and civility.

Two days after the disrupted Board of Governors meeting, in a private but not confidential e-mail, Michael Wernick complained that the student protests should not have been allowed. His e-mail used epithets that were fairly extreme. While I completely disagree with what Michael Wernick wrote in his e-mail, I am truly glad that he expressed his sincere opinion. That is what free speech and discourse are all about. Do I think such a high-ranking government employee and member of the Board’s executive committee should be that autocratic in the face of relatively powerless student protestors? Hell no. Do I think that Michael Wernick should be removed from Carleton’s Board of Governors for his acerbic e-mail? Hell no. Michael Wernick has opened up a very important debate about the role of free speech in the university and in government, for which I thank him, even though I completely disagree with him.

1 comment
  1. Alejandro Hernandez said:

    Very interesting points you make, Root.

    To the discussion of the role of free speech in the university and, especially in government, careful attention needs to be put into the relevance of offering the most possible objective information. This especially applies when someone makes comments that are unfortunate and misinformed (“tactics of Brownshirts and Maoists”?).

    Personally, I maintain my position of rejecting being represented by someone who, using his government authority (both at Carleton University and the Government), lacks in historical accuracy and sensibility, and tact. Michael Wernick definitively does not represent me.



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