Dear Dr. Lowy and Ms. Vineberg:
I am writing to you on behalf of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship. As you know, SAFS represents a broad cross-section of professional academics, students and interested others from across Canada, and elsewhere. Together, we work to maintain freedom in teaching, research and scholarship, and to maintain standards of excellence within Canadian universities.
In our earlier statement on the anti-free speech riot at Concordia (September 12, enclosed), we condemned the violent actions by hooligans who forced the cancellation of the speech by former Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. We also stated, AAlthough it is understandable that the senior leadership would feel that a cooling-off period might be useful, a prolonged moratorium will send the message that free speech at Concordia University can be hijacked by thugs. Such an impression must never be given in a free society.
Thus we were pleased to learn that Concordia's Board of Governors voted on Wednesday evening to revoke the moratorium on discussions of events in the Middle East. We urge you to name a date, as early as possible, on which the moratorium will be officially over, thus restoring free speech on campus.
In our view, Concordia has now had sufficient time to make the appropriate arrangements to ensure both campus safety and reasoned debate on issues concerning the Middle East. As you know, free speech is the life-blood of universities. Without free speech, the work of both students and faculty at Concordia will suffer. We support you in your efforts to make Concordia University a place where speakers representing numerous points of view, and background, will be able to speak openly and safely.
As a final note, I would like you to know that one of our Board of Directors, Professor Harvey Shulman, is also a member of the faculty at Concordia. Accordingly, he did not play any role in the writing of this letter. November 2, 2002.
SAFS Letter to Sabine Friesenger, President of Concordia Student Union
Dear Ms. Friesenger:
We are a national organization of scholars whose goals are to promote academic freedom in teaching, research, and scholarship and to uphold the merit principle as the basis of academic decision-making regarding students and faculty.
Based on our reading of media reports, we write to denounce the actions of the Concordia Students Union (CSU) in banning Hillel from normal participation as a club at the University. As a recognized club, Hillel deserves to be treated fairly, that is, according to the same rules that are applied to all clubs.
It is our understanding that the decision to ban Hillel, thus freezing its operating budget and its ability to use university space, was taken at a hastily called meeting, attended by only 9 of 27 councillors, who voted at midnight. Further, it is unclear that the action Hillel was charged with committing (distributing brochures providing information about volunteering for the Israeli Defence Forces) is actually an offence or was approved by Hillel itself. Hillel was also not given a chance to explain itself, and there was no attempt by the CSU to investigate the matter before the meeting to ban Hillel was called.
In the context of recent events at Concordia that include a riot by pro-Palestinian supporters that led to the cancellation of a scheduled speech by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the invitation to and appearance by Svend Robinson, Judy Rebeck and others to speak at Concordia in violation of the administration's moratorium on issues dealing with the Middle East, your actions may be interpreted by many as a deliberate provocation, which will only further diminish the public's opinion of the CSU.
The Academy is a precious entity, the only institution in society whose reason for existence is to search for truth and communicate what is known about the human condition and the world in which we live. To subvert the principles of the Academy -- reasoned debate, freedom to associate, and civility for the CSU's, or anyone's, narrow political purpose would be repugnant.
We call on the Concordia Students Union to revoke immediately its ban on Hillel. December 9, 2002.
Clive Seligman, SAFS President