SOCIETY FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND SCHOLARSHIP (sAFS)
Statement on Preventing Campus Debate by Leaders of the York Federation of Students and its Student Center
March 10, 2008
The website of the York Federation of Students (YFS) boasts that ‘students are the university.’ Yet, the leaders of the YFS (and its Student Center) seem to have no problem denying the students they purport to represent their basic academic freedom to hear debates on controversial issues, even when those debates are organized by their own debating club. Sadly, the YFS does not understand that authoritarian control of ideas is directly contrary to the main purpose of university education, namely, the development of skills necessary in seeking the truth from among contested ideas.
A more reasoned view of this situation would suggest that even if we believe some ideas are bad, debating them serves several crucial purposes: 1) discovering why some ideas are bad sharpens our understanding of why other ideas are good, 2) discovering the details of our opponents’ views helps us articulate more accurately why we believe they are mistaken, 3) demonstrating that all ideas can be debated freely and openly within the university signals that thinking outside of the box is valued, and some novel, provocative ideas, which otherwise may have remained unexplored, may come forth and prove to be of immense value, 4) confronting bad ideas teaches us to defeat them on intellectual grounds rather than by recourse to hurt feelings, censorship, or violence, and 5) by debating apparently “bad” ideas, we may discover that some are, in fact, good ideas, and knowledge will be advanced.
Whatever the intentions of the YFS and its Student Center, they have violated the academic rights of the students they serve, and by their actions they have characterized their own university as an indoctrination center rather than a place of learning. We call on them to reverse their decision, and, if they don’t, we encourage the students of York University to elect wiser representatives at the next election.
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