On Nov. 13, an article published in the Hamilton Spectator highlighted McMaster’s development of an anti-disruption policy aimed at barring students from disrupting future speakers on campus.
In his article for the Spectator, Andrew Dreschel praises McMaster president Patrick Deane’s prioritization of an anti-disruption policy and his commitment to free speech. He argues McMaster does not currently protect free speech sufficiently, citing low scores from organizations such as the Campus Freedom Index as evidence.
Deane, however, has expressed interest in clarifying the new guidelines being developed since the article’s release.
“The university is engaged in developing guidelines around the limits to acceptable protest intended to assist event organizers and participants, as well as those seeking to engage in protest, rather than an anti-disruption policy,” said Deane in an email interview.
The university’s efforts come in the wake of the disruption that Jordan Peterson experienced when he came to deliver a lecture at McMaster last March.
In particular, after being disrupted by student protestors, Peterson was forced to leave the room and complete his lecture outside.
Following the protest, both the Revolutionary Student Movement (Hamilton) and the McMaster Womanists put out statements on their social media stating they were verbally and physically accosted while protesting the event.
Deane wrote a letter that defended Peterson’s right to speak on campus, citing the university’s commitment to academic freedom.
According to Dreschel, Deane has already “established a committee of academics to talk about what the ethical frame for [the guidelines] should be.”
“Once complete, [the guidelines] will, of course, be made widely available to members of the McMaster community,” said Deane.
Campus activists are concerned with the university’s anti-disruption efforts, arguing McMaster does not adequately protect marginalized groups on campus. All activists who spoke wished to remain anonymous out of fear of violence.
“Protest is the only way powerless people can give themselves a voice,” said one student activist. “Any university that tries to protect free speech by threatening marginalized students with punishment if they protest is a university where a single institutional perspective dominates,” they added.
The campus activist explained that the university’s commitment to free speech is eroded by the fact that it is endorsing a policy aimed at constraining activism.
Another campus activist believes that the policy will allow right-wing groups to evade accountability when inviting and condoning bigoted speakers in the future.
“It gives them a way to hold politically incorrect events without fear of being shut down,” she said. “When students spoke out about their concerns with having Peterson speak, the school actively ignored those concerns. The only way students were able to get their message across was through disrupting the event to protect the LGBTQ community on campus.”
The exact guidelines will likely be completed early 2018.