February 13, 2006
Dr. Terrence Murphy
Vice-President, Academic and Research
Saint Mary’s University
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Dear Vice-President Murphy:
I am writing to you as president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship. We are a national organization of university faculty members and interested others who are dedicated to the defence of academic freedom and reasoned debate. For further information, please visit our website at www.safs.ca.
We are writing to strongly protest your order to Professor Peter March to remove the controversial material placed on his office door. In your memorandum of 9 February to the Saint Mary’s University community, you offered as justification for your action that you “thought their public display without context was a matter of concern. Given the strong, and in several cases violent, responses to the cartoons in many parts of the world, there was a reasonable apprehension of risk to the safety of members of the campus community.”
By censoring debate at your campus in this way, rather than taking the necessary steps to provide appropriate security to allow debate to happen, you have encouraged the view that the threat of violence, real or imagined, is an effective way to challenge ideas with which one disagrees.
Violence is not an acceptable response in debate. Those threatening violence are the ones who must be restrained, not the individual whose speech allegedly may provoke violence. Should Saint Mary’s University wish to remain a place of open debate, it is important that the university show that it is willing to provide the appropriate security rather than opting for censorship.
Although we are pleased that you and the Saint Mary’s University administration recognized Professor March’s academic right to discuss and show the controversial cartoons in his current class on Critical Thinking, we are puzzled by the inconsistency in your administration’s treatment of the academic freedom issue in the two instances. By seeking to find a middle ground between academic freedom and public safety, we believe you have compromised both.
We urge your administration to reconsider the decision to regulate and censor the free expression of ideas on the Saint Mary’s campus. Those of us who work in universities have a special obligation to maintain the Academy as a marketplace of ideas, a place where unfettered debate can take place both inside and outside the classroom.
Clive Seligman, President
CC: Professor Peter March, Department of Philosophy.