March 15, 2013
Dr. Feridun Hamdullahpur
President, University of Waterloo
Waterloo, ON, N2L 3G1
Dear President Hamdullahpur:
Re: Events of March 13, 2013
I’m writing on behalf of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS), a national organization of professors, students, and interested others who are dedicated to academic freedom, free speech, and reasoned debate on university campuses. You can learn more about our organization at www.safs.ca.
On March 13, 2013, Stephen Woodworth, Member of Parliament for Kitchener-Centre, was invited by Waterloo Students for Life to speak on campus about his Parliamentary Motion 312, which deals with the definition of life in the Criminal Code. Mr. Woodworth’s presentation was shut down by noisy protestors, and the event had to be disbanded. Posted video shows several campus security personnel in attendance, but according to the National Post this morning, Ellen Rethore, your spokesperson, said the police were there “to guard the safety of everyone, not enforce rules of academic debate.”
With respect, SAFS believes that university security personnel should indeed be deployed to enable free speech and debate during scheduled classes or presentations by invited speakers. Not to do so is to invite mob rule on campus, as self-appointed protestors determine who will be allowed to speak.
It was much to your university’s credit when an apology was issued to author Christie Blatchford after protestors disrupted her invited presentation in 2010. We trust that you will do the right thing by apologizing to Mr. Woodworth.
We are heartened that your spokesperson, Ellen Rethore, also said in the same National Post story referred to earlier, that “the disruptive behavior was unacceptable,” an inquiry was underway, and that the “school would welcome Mr. Woodworth back, and prevent a repeat.” Ms. Rethore also stated: “Our goal is to ensure an environment of tolerance and uphold the right of individuals to advance their views openly.”
We agree with the goal, but wonder how it will be achieved. We suggest new policies may need to be worked out for university security so that they accept responsibility for effectively preventing disruption at public events, such as Mr. Woodworth’s speech. It is also important that you, as president, re-affirm to the university community in the strongest language the importance of free debate on campus of controversial issues.
Thank you for your continued attention to these matters.
Clive Seligman, President