April 7, 2003

Response to SAFS by President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden

Dr. Clive Seligman, President
Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship
1673 Richmond Street, #344
London, Ontario
N6G 2N3

Dear Dr. Seligman,

Thank you very much for your constructive letter of March 19th. First, let me say that York is at the forefront in Canada of framing a truly Canadian debate about the global tensions that affect us all in our daily lives.  Across the campus we are holding teach-ins, seminars and forums to debate these difficult issues in an atmosphere consistent with the free exchange of ideas in a respectful environment.  Indeed, recently I was part of a panel discussing just such issues with over 200 students on all sides of the Middle East debate.  The discussion was spirited, thoughtful and instructive.  It was most encouraging.  With all of this activity, we are attempting to move the debate beyond entrenched positions and into an area more reflective of the diversity and inclusiveness inherent to Canadian society and to York.

You may also be interested in the letter that I wrote to the student newspaper, Excalibur, on this subject and the original editorial that inspired it.  I attach copies for your convenience.

As you noted in your letter, York has been a strong proponent of free speech, both in word and deed, and has taken a strong stance against those who would attempt to limit it.  At York, we have no tolerance for intimidation of any kind, against any group or individual, and are investigating the incidents you refer to in your letter.

However, let me correct a factual error in your letter. No doubt this error is based on newspaper accounts, which contain a number of inaccuracies about the Daniel Pipes visit.  He was invited to campus by the Jewish Students Federation, who then asked the Student Centre and the York Centre for International & Security Studies to host him for parts of his visit.  The Jewish Students Federation was always the host, and we simply followed our procedures for ‘the temporary use of space’ in assisting them to find an appropriate venue and security.  This is our normal practice, and is frequently done.  At no time was the invitation to Dr. Pipes rescinded, although there was confusion about both the location of his speech and the animosity of some campus members to his visit, which changed the associated events.

With regard to the public statement you are proposing, if you refer to my website at York University-President Remarks, you will find a message to the York community that I posted at the beginning of the academic year entitled Tensions and Rules on Campus’ reminding everyone of the responsibilities that we all share in creating an environment where free speech can take place in a respectful environment.  It also points to the policies and procedures that have been put in place to foster such an environment.  I think that many of the hopes and aspirations that you outlined are reflected in that statement.

The start of the new academic year in September will provide us with another opportunity, as you suggest, to get this message of free speech and respect for the viewpoints of others out to the wider York community, who will at that time be welcoming many more new members!

Yours sincerely,

Lorna R. Marsden, PhD
President and Vice-Chancellor

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