The assaults on free speech at Canadian campuses are becoming more alarming. Following on Ryerson University actually prohibiting a panel discussion on free speech, we have the bullying and threatening of poor 22-year-old grad assistant Lindsay Shepherd for showing a clip from TVO in class—something freely available to the general public on TV.
This is the perfect subversion of the intention of a university: the free exchange of ideas. Now any free exchange of ideas must be done outside class, in secret. The professors involved should be fired. If they are not, the university should be cut off from any public funding and any degree-granting powers.
The sad excuse used, here and elsewhere, for such attacks on free speech and free thought, is that some speech or some idea may hurt someone's feelings. And this is an act of violence against them. Like Hitler, as the profs in this case actually say.
This claim ought never to be entertained, even though it has now become an accepted commonplace. Any possible opinion or point of view is going to make someone feel uncomfortable. If I say it is sunny out today, it will offend someone whose family makes a living selling umbrellas. To prohibit any speech at all on these grounds is always to give some favoured group special privileges. And any assignment of special privileges to one group is always a withdrawal of rights from all others.
It is essential, too, to all that is good and holy, to preserve a distinction between physical assault and reasoned debate. It is not just that words are not deeds—as our grandmothers used to say, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It is also that defeating an opponent with superior reasoning and evidence is a very different thing from defeating him by beating him into bloodied submission with a baseball bat or a prison term. Erase that difference, and all hell breaks loose. The only options then are anarchy, a war to the death of all against all, or totalitarianism, with government purely in the personal interests of whatever individual happens to hold power.
The modern academy is now actually actively engaged in erasing that difference. The assault on Lindsay Shepherd is a definite example of beating a reasoned opinion you do not like into submission. Not, to be clear, Shepherd's opinion; that of Jordan Peterson,which she simply reported.
At this point, the safest thing for us all would be to abolish the universities. Happily, a benevolent providence seems to be at work on this as we speak. I have recently seen the prediction that, within ten years, half of US colleges will be bankrupt. Aside from such egregious abuses of power and position as we see here, the old job of the university can now be done more efficiently and cheaply online. The community of scholars is now equally present everywhere, on the web.
And on the web, happily, it is virtually impossible to suppress opinions you do not like. Making it a much better vehicle for the advancement of human knowledge.
Examples like the present one at WLU just ensure there will be less mourning for the old professoriate when they go.