(Ottawa – January 31, 2023) The Canadian Association of University Teachers is criticizing the University of Lethbridge administration for cancelling a planned talk on campus.
In a letter issued today to the University’s President, Michael Mahon, CAUT says the talk by Dr. Frances Widdowson should have been allowed to proceed.
The decision to cancel the event “raises serious concerns about the University of Lethbridge’s commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom,” the letter states.
CAUT notes that while many profoundly disagree with Dr. Widdowson’s views, a university should “welcome controversial speakers and vigorous debate, not seek to restrict discourse or speakers.”
CAUT is the national voice of more than 72,000 academic and professional staff at 120 colleges and universities.
Dear President Mahon:
The Canadian Association of University Teachers is deeply concerned about your decision to cancel a planned talk on campus by Dr. Frances Widdowson. Your actions raise serious concerns about the University of Lethbridge’s commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom.
The foundational role of a university is aptly captured in the University of Toronto’s Statement of Institutional Purpose:
Within the unique university context, the most crucial of all human rights are the rights of freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom of research. And we affirm that these rights are meaningless unless they entail the right to raise deeply disturbing questions and provocative challenges to the cherished beliefs of society at large and of the university itself.
Dr. Widdowson certainly does raise disturbing and provocative questions. While many profoundly disagree with her, a university should welcome controversial speakers and vigorous debate, not seek to restrict discourse or speakers.
The University of Lethbridge owes its academic community an assurance that it will not act in ways contrary to its foundational purpose of supporting, fostering, and defending freedom of expression and academic freedom.