March 3, 2010
Dr. Mamdouh Shoukri
President and Vice-Chancellor
Dear President Shoukri:
As president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, a national organization of scholars whose goals are the defence of academic freedom and the merit principle in institutions of higher education, I am writing to express profound concern and disappointment with the situation described in an op-ed article that appeared in the National Post this past Saturday.
In the article, “Something’s seriously wrong at York University,” David Frum gives several examples of how York University appears to have taken sides in the Middle East conflict, effectively favoring an anti-Israel group over a pro-Israel one. Taking sides in a political controversy is clearly something that a university must not do. Rather a university’s role must be to provide a forum in which controversial ideas can be debated. That is, a university’s role is to protect and promote the academic freedom and free speech of all of its members. It appears that York University has failed in this regard.
More specifically, Mr. Frum has noted that anti-Israel groups are allowed to express their views on the York campus without bearing any of the cost of their security, whereas pro-Israel groups have been assessed security expenses they could not afford, thereby silencing them. Furthermore, according to his report, the rationale given by one of your officials for the extra security costs was fear that opponents of the pro-Israel group might resort to violence. Effectively, this means that thugs now have the veto over debate at York.
On March 1, you posted a statement on the president’s webpage, presumably in answer to David Frum’s allegations. Incredibly, in that statement you claim “The University’s priority is that discourse on the Middle East and other contentious issues be freely conducted… Freedom of speech is for everyone, or it is for no one…The University is firmly committed to protecting the safety and security of all members of the community.” Yet, as Provost Monahan confirmed in a letter to the editor of the National Post (March 2), York University requires that the costs of hiring extra security be borne by the group against whom violence might be committed. In what way, then, can it be said that York University is “protecting the safety and security of all members of the community?”
York University must do more in response to these serious allegations than post motherhood statements that are belied by events on its own campus. We urge you to begin a serious investigation of the university’s policies dealing with academic freedom and free speech and whether they are effectively being implemented.
Clive Seligman, President
CC: Patrick Monahan, Provost and VP Academic
Paul Cantor, Chair of the Board of Governors
Zahir Janmohamed, Vice-Chair of the Board of Governors.