The task of articulating a position on freedom of expression sounds deceivingly simple. Doing so in a thoughtful manner – as those of us on Laurier’s Task Force on Freedom of Expression learned – is, in fact, quite a complex process.
It required months of intensive research, consultation with subject-matter experts, consideration of feedback gleaned through community consultation and hundreds of hours of writing, editing and re-editing. Task force members approached the process with incredible care, cognizant that the words we chose would have lasting impacts on our university community. That's why it was deeply gratifying for us when, on May 29, the university Senate voted overwhelmingly in favour of adopting the Statement on Freedom of Expression and the Board of Governors subsequently endorsed it.
The statement articulates Laurier's commitment to freedom of thought, association and expression, and how these principles can be meaningfully aligned with our commitment to an inclusive campus community, as well as our aspiration to promote constructive intellectual discourse – or "better" speech – throughout our instiution.
From the outset, consideration of input from all voices in our community was a priority for the task force. This included the review of more than 300 submissions provided before work began on writing the statement and more than 200 written feedback submissions received in response to the initial draft.
Laurier alumni were incredibly engaged in this process, accounting for 38 per cent of written comments. We are grateful to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts and proud of how invested our graduates continue to feel in the Laurier community.
Laurier has long been an institution committed to “the pursuit of learning through scholarship, teaching and research within a spirit of free enquiry and expression.” Our new Statement on Freedom of Expression does not represent a departure from these long-held values, but the process of creating the statement provided the university with an important and timely opportunity to reflect on and clearly articulate these principles.
In the contemporary context, our university is not alone in grappling with the topic of freedom of expression. However, I do feel that our consultative approach to this issue and our inclusive process do honour and genuinely represent the spirit of community for which Laurier is known.
It was a privilege to chair this important initiative and to witness the incredible thought and effort put toward this undertaking by the faculty and student leaders who sat on the task force. Throughout this process task force members and feedback submissions have pointed to the fact that approval of a statement is just the beginning. Collective considerations are essential to determine how we as a university community operationalize this statement in a meaningful way that protects expression, promotes respect and allows academic enquiry to flourish. That work is underway and we look forward to continuing those conversations.
Rob Gordon, PhD
Chair, Task Force on Freedom of Expression