by Howard Stein and Noemi Gal-Or
The university is a unique institution in society. It should, everywhere and always, be a place where all views, even unpopular ones (including, say, support for cannibalism), can be heard. Popularity does not determine the validity of a point of view.
However, in Canada, several related confrontations involving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have recently challenged the concept of democracy and legitimate debate at universities. The spirit of scholarship on campuses has been adversely affected as limits have been placed on debate, free speech and academic freedom, people have been intimidated and harassed, and power disparities have been abused.
In response, and to counter defamation and intolerance of Jews and supporters of the state of Israel on campuses, a group of professors and staff at postsecondary institutions in British Columbia has organized the British Columbia Campus Action Coalition (www.bc-cac.org). The initiative is premised on a commitment to promoting mutual respect and understanding as well as coexistence and peace, while discouraging polarization, belligerence and hatred in matters related to the Middle East.
In the pages that follow we analyze the current situation and its implications, and propose a prescription for improvement.
Limiting debate, free speech and academic freedom
An anti-intellectual approach that seeks to limit debate, free speech and academic freedom has been increasingly present on Canadian campuses. It has manifested itself in a number of major strategies: preventing speakers from arriving at their destination, preventing speakers from being heard, restricting opposing views, exploiting emotion and using propaganda, and preventing rebuttal.