March 15, 2010
Sent on behalf of Harriet Lewis, University Secretary & General Counsel
Dear Dr Seligman,
Thank you for contacting me with your concerns.
York University is a community that prides itself on free inquiry, open and civil discourse, and respect for points of view that may differ from our own. We are also firmly committed to the fair application of procedures for the booking of space that allows different groups to express themselves, while ensuring appropriate security procedures are in place.
The first week of March has become a time where issues and events in the Middle East are discussed and debated at university campuses around the country. Yet as you know, events associated with Israeli Apartheid Week are not unique to the York University campus and, indeed, take place on campuses across North America. That being said, the IAW events that are took place on the York campus last week were conducted in an orderly and civil manner; they were also located in venues that ensured that students who did not wish to take part in the discussions were not required to do so.
It is also the case that a variety of events on the York campus were organized by pro-Israeli student groups, including Christians United For Israel (CUFI), Hillel and Hasbara. These events also took place in an orderly manner, without disruption, and without any extra charges or costs associated with security.
You have made particular mention of an event that was planned by CUFI and which ultimately did not proceed. You may have seen the letter to the editor of the National Post published in the March 2, 2010 edition from Vice President Academic and Provost Patrick Monahan, which attempts to correct a number of inaccuracies in an article published in the Post over the weekend. I might also add that the York University policy of charging for additional costs associated with policing when it is required for high profile events is one that is followed at many other universities, including those in the Greater Toronto area. Moreover, it has been applied here at York not just in relation to this particular event, but in relation to events organized by other student groups from differing political perspectives. In this case, the student group had initially agreed to fund the security/policing cost of approximately $1200, but ultimately decided that they did not wish to proceed and, instead, elected to hold events on campus.
The fact that this particular event did not proceed in no way suggests that the campus is not open to a variety of political perspectives on the Middle East. Indeed, as I have noted above, a number of pro-Israeli events took place last week without the necessity for special security (and thus no additional costs) and without incident.
I regret very much that inaccurate and misleading media accounts regarding an event that did not take place has led a number of individuals to form a misleading impression of York’s policies in relation to events on campus. I want to take this opportunity to clarify York’s position when it comes to free speech and free inquiry:
The University’s priority is that discourse on the Middle East and other contentious issues be freely conducted without infringing on the rights of others and without disrupting the academic functioning of the University.
It is the right of any community member to express his or her view within the law and without fear of intimidation or harassment. By the same token, members of the community must respect the rights of others to express views that differ from their own. Freedom of speech is for everyone, or it is for no one.
Political activism is no excuse for racism, intimidation or hatred of any kind.
The University is firmly committed to protecting the safety and security of all members of the community in a fair, balanced and equal way. The University’s policies on the use of space are well understood and accepted by all student groups on campus. No group — regardless of belief or affiliation, enjoys special rights or privileges.
Universities exist for the free exchange of ideas, and sometimes this can feel uncomfortable. But ideas can only flourish in an atmosphere free of intolerance, hatred and harassment.
Thank you again for writing.
University Secretary & General Counsel