Free Speech and Security at Concordia
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
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
Provost and Vice-President, Academic Affairs
Vice-President, Institutional Relations
Michael Di Grappa,
Nabil Esmail, Dean,
Engineering and Computer Science
Dean, Arts and Science
Dean, Fine Arts
Dean, Graduate Studies
Dean, John Molson School of Business
Tel: (514) 848-2424
Fax: (514) 848-2814