October 6, 2004

Free Speech and Security at Concordia University

Regrettably, Concordia University is once again inaccurately represented as an institution that curtails freedom of speech.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The University's decision not to host on our campuses the  proposed speech by Mr. Ehud Barak, a former Prime-Minister of Israel, but to co-sponsor the event at a more securable location has been distorted as a failure to protect free speech and a caving in to mob role.  This is simply not true.

The University has a responsibility to protect the security of students, staff, professors, and neighbours while promoting free speech-at a location that security experts consider appropriate.  This is precisely what we have done.  That the organizers of Mr. Barak's proposed visit have rejected our offer to facilitate, co-sponsor and help pay for the event at one of several recommended Montreal sites calls into question whether they truly wish to  hear Mr. Barak's views or, rather, wish to advance their own political agenda without regard for the potential consequences for Concordia University.

Since the events of September, 2002 when a group of violent protesters, many of whom were not our students, prevented another former Israeli Prime-Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, from speaking, there has been pressure on the University to demonstrate that it is not anti-semitic and that Jewish speakers are welcome.  The University is sensitive to this issue. We are equally sensitive to similar concerns from all the constituencies that are part of the diverse Concordia community. However, it  would have been negligent for the University to respond to such pressure by attempting to host the event on campus against responsible advice.  Nor is  it necessary.

The facts are that Jewish students, professors and staff as well as members of many other ethnic and religious groups interact daily in complete freedom.  Only yesterday a distinguished Jewish scholar from Princeton University spoke to an overflow audience on the history of Jewish-Muslim relations.  The lecture and an extended question period took place in an atmosphere of respect and civility.

 In the light of media coverage of Concordia, many who don't know our university might well be surprised that not only controversial Jewish and Arab speakers but controversial commentators on a variety of topics regularly speak at this University.  During the past two years a successful series of public lectures on Peace and Conflict Resolution have been held. We stand on our proven record of open debate and freedom of expression that  is second to no other university in this country.

In summary, we would have been pleased to have Mr. Barak speak to our students, and were prepared to plan for this until our risk assessment team, armed with advice from security authorities, concluded that we do not at present have a locale on campus that can reasonably be made sufficiently secure for such an event.  That is why we made the offer to co-sponsor
this speech off campus.

Unfortunately, this offer was rejected.  Let's be fair and truthful.  We have not compromised freedom of speech by our decision regarding Mr. Barak. We simply do not have the facilities that allow us to hold this particular event in a safe environment without disrupting the normal academic activities on-campus or those of our neighbours whom we consider an important part of our community. Nevertheless, freedom of speech remains alive at Concordia University as does our responsibility for the security of the community.

Frederick H. Lowy, President and Vice-Chancellor
Martin Singer, Provost and Vice-President, Academic Affairs
Marcel Danis, Vice-President, Institutional Relations
Larry English, Vice-President, Finance
Michael Di Grappa, Vice-President, Services
Truong Vo-Van, Vice-Provost, Research
Nabil Esmail, Dean, Engineering and Computer Science
June Chaikelson, Dean, Arts and Science
Christopher Jackson, Dean, Fine Arts
Elizabeth Sacca, Dean, Graduate Studies
Jerry Tomberlin, Dean, John Molson School of Business

Internal Relations & Communications,
Concordia University
Tel: (514) 848-2424 local 4183
Fax: (514) 848-2814