SAFS Letter to
President and Vice Chancellor Frederick H. Lowy, Concordia University
Dr. Frederick H. Lowy
President and Vice-Chancellor
1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Dear Dr. Lowy:
I am writing to you on behalf of the
Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship to express our concern
regarding the way an invitation to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak of
Israel to speak to the Concordia University community has been handled.
As we understand it from several
newspaper accounts, the local Hillel chapter was denied by your
administration the opportunity to invite Mr. Barak to speak on campus.
Based solely on that piece of information various charges have been
levelled at Concordia including: attempting to bar Mr. Barak from
speaking at Concordia; caving in to a small group of students who
threatened (or might threaten) to disrupt or prevent the speech; and of
violating free speech and academic freedom at Concordia.
We also understand from your public
statement that your administration concluded that the safety of those
wanting to attend the presentation could not be guaranteed at a campus
venue. In your public statement you explained that Concordia is willing
to co-sponsor Mr. Barak at an off-campus site that could be better
protected, such as Place des Arts or a hotel.
Unfortunately, the dominant issue
seems to have become whether Mr. Barak would be allowed to speak on
campus or forced to give his speech at an off-campus venue. If Mr.
Barak had been invited, accepted the invitation, and a date for the
talk arranged, then we suspect the ultimate location for the talk, even
if off-campus, might not have evolved into an important issue.
Regrettably the site of the speech has now become a legitimate concern
for academic freedom.
The academic freedom issue is that
Concordia University has appeared to have lost control of its campus,
and that radical elements within (and perhaps outside of) its
jurisdiction seem to be dictating who may be invited to campus to speak
and in what venue. This perception, which we hope is not borne out in
fact, suggests that normal academic judgement and criteria were not
applied with regard to Mr. Barak's invitation. Ultimately, if such a
perception persists, Concordia University will lose credibility as an
institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through a
disinterested search for truth. Indeed, at this time it may be very
difficult to combat the emerging image of Concordia University as a
place that does not protect academic freedom. It is in Concordia
University’s interest, as well as our democracy’s, that the integrity
of the Academy is rigorously maintained.
Accordingly, we call upon Concordia
University to take positive action to declare its control over academic
matters and immediately invite Prime Minister Barak to speak on campus
at Concordia. The university should not wait to find a co-sponsor.
Instead, Concordia should sponsor this talk through one of its own
existent academic speaker programs. If Mr. Barak accepts the invitation
and an acceptable date is arranged, then your administration, in
consultation with your own security police, the Montreal Police
Department, the RCMP, and Mr. Barak’s security team should take a fresh
look at the security of venues. If the only satisfactory venue at the
end of that review proves to be off-campus, then so be it. The
important point is that safety issues must be seen to be judged on
their own merit and not as smokescreens that undermine academic freedom.
Finally, I note that Harvey Shulman,
a member of our Board of Directors, is also a member of the faculty at
Concordia. Accordingly, he did not play any role in the writing of this
Mr. Alain Benedetti, Chair, Board of Governors
Michael Di Grappa, Vice-President (Services)
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