In his address to York University's Senate (Newsletter, April 2009), the President of that troubled institution emphasized its commitment to "social justice" as one of its "core values." Such a commitment is fundamentally incompatible with a university's proper role in society.
In order to promote "social justice," one has to decide what the term means. Is the ideal to be equal opportunity, allowing differences among individuals to produce unequal outcomes? Are rewards forsuperior ability, energy and initiative to be regarded as consistent with justice, or must there be a government guarantee of at least approximately equal social status and standards of living? If equality of outcomes is the goal, should that principle apply to individuals or to group averages? In the latter case, how are the relevant groups to be defined?
Without an answer to such questions, rhetoric about "social justice" is meaningless. But a university that does answer them is bestowing its institutional blessing on a particular vision of "social justice," and thus on a political cause. Aligning itself with one party or faction in political controversy is something that a university should never do. If it declares (or implies) that whatever it means by "social justice" represents the correct political position, it risks creating an atmosphere of repression in which the ideas of those who reject the institution's definition of "social justice" are prejudged as illegitimate.
A university should be content to provide the highest feasible quality of education, along with an impartial forum for free debate on political (and other) issues, taking no stand as an institution except to uphold freedom – for example, by providing adequate security against disruption of meetings and intimidation of speakers.