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Why NEXT Canada CEO, Sheldon Levy, defended freedom of speech on campus

Jan 26, 2018

University presidents are asked to stop activities on campus in the name of just about every imaginable social, political and economic injustice of the last 100 years. Then they are labelled by how they respond.

As any university president knows, the labels come with the job, and they tend to get trotted out in the same recurring situation. When a polarizing figure is scheduled to speak on campus, the university president is asked to ban the speaker.

When the president refuses in the name of “freedom of speech,” the president is too often called-out as insensitive to the case being made and, in not banning a speaker, is accused of supporting whatever allegedly heinous or repulsive idea is at the centre of the controversy. Administrators accumulate these labels like destination stickers on the luggage of their careers. More often than not, it’s a sign that they are doing their jobs well.

For what it’s worth, the definition of “apologist” is “a person who offers an argument in defence of something controversial.” By that definition, I have been an apologist for only one cause: freedom of speech.

On many occasions, I gave my administrator’s green light to events featuring speakers whose ideas I personally loathed. And I did so because freedom of speech is a core defining value for any free society. Democracy cannot function without it. And it is the role of the university to be the place where free speech is tested, in an atmosphere of serious discussion, with robust argumentation and counter-examination.

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