In August, universities across Canada began introducing Covid safety mandates, requiring that all students, staff, and faculty show proof of vaccination status, or in some cases submit to weekly testing, in order to be admitted onto campus. At a sane time, entire campuses would have erupted in vehement protest.
At the end of August, I published an article “The Silence of the Professors” to express my dismay at what seemed the overwhelming quiescence of the professoriate. Where were the objections on the grounds of freedom of conscience, human rights, religious liberty, and scientific rationality? Weren’t universities places, above all else, that valued evidence-informed debate and the consideration of different points of view? Didn’t academics pride themselves, furthermore, on their obligation to stand up for the marginalized, the dissident, and the demonized, particularly against the coercive power of governments and large corporations? Where were they now? Was there nothing to be said about the medical, philosophical, legal, and ethical problems in coercing thousands of students and staff to assent to a novel medical treatment?
I was particularly disturbed that the majority of faculty associations seemed not only to be passively supporting the mandate but actively demanding it be implemented. The largest faculty body, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, approved the vaccination measure, saying that it did not violate faculty agreements so long as students and faculty who opposed vaccination could work off campus, a stipulation that seems to have been ignored at most universities with no public objection from the CAUT.
Others who approved the vaccination mandate were more uncompromising, and made ludicrous statements in defense of it. Western University bio-ethicist Professor Maxwell Smith, member of the Canadian government’s ethics advisory group and someone who has presumably spent years of his life researching the ethics of medical procedures, claimed blithely that a choice between being injected and keeping one’s job or pursuing one’s program of study was still entirely voluntary. “That vaccines may be required to work in certain settings doesn’t render the consent to be vaccinated involuntary,” he tweeted gamely. “It’s still your voluntary choice whether to be vaccinated. Employers just don’t have to employ you if you aren’t.” Intellectual dissent on university campuses, it seemed, had entered a period of unprecedented somnolence.
In fact, as I learned later, some academics were speaking out about university policies; we just weren’t hearing very much about them in the mainstream media. And alas, few university presidents or boards of governors seem to be paying them much heed.
The essays that follow make arguments about Covid-19 mandates, their alleged scientific basis, their legality, their ethical framework, their efficacy, and their truthfulness. Including an essay by a brave student, they highlight the investigations and activism of scholars who have refused the demand to comply, and they demonstrate that truth-seeking and critical thinking are not dead among academics and scholars—just on the retreat. But we already knew that. Thank you to our colleagues with the courage and commitment to articulate their thoughts here.