Canadian University: Can’t Show Both Sides of “Gendered Pronoun” Debate
As Lindsey Shepherd was pleading her case before Wilfrid Laurier University faculty and staff, the 22-year-old Canadian grad student and teaching assistant seemed caught off guard by their demands. Her superiors weren’t saying she couldn’t show a televised debate over gender-neutral pronouns in the context of a classroom discussion on language—they just needed her to condemn one side of the debate first. To do otherwise, they said, was “like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler, or Milo Yiannopoulos.”This, however, has a happy outcome.
Shepherd neither endorsed nor decried either side of the TV Ontario showdown between controversial University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan B. Peterson and Nicholas Matte, a professor in the Waterloo University women’s studies department. In the clip that Shepherd played for first-year communications students, Matte and Peterson argue over whether it’s appropriate for professors to address students by pronouns other than “he” and “she” — something Peterson refuses to do.
The clip was shown in the context of a class discussion on how language shapes culture and how gender-specific pronouns have caused controversy. “I was not taking sides,” Shepherd—who does not agree with Peterson’s position—would later tell school authorities. “I was presenting both arguments.”
After an anonymous student complaint was filed, Shepherd was called into a meeting with her supervising professor Nathan Rambukkana, another communications school professor, and the university’s manager of gendered violence prevention and support. They claimed that Shepherd was “transphobic” and that she needed to keep her “problematic” views out of the classroom. Shepherd pushed back, insisting that she didn’t share in Peterson’s pronoun point-of-view but thought it was important not to bring her own views into the discussion.
Read the entire article, but briefly, Shepherd stood up for her rights, went public, and the university had to apologize for her treatment. Her case was helped by the fact that she secretly recorded the conservation with Rambukkana and the campus bureaucrats.
The initial response from the university was vacillating and confused. But the recording was so embarrassing (and the backlash from public opinion so severe) that the President of Wilfrid Laurier issued a statement saying:
The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires. I am sorry it occurred in the way that it did and I regret the impact it had on Lindsay Shepherd.In a decent university, this apology would not have been necessary because the attempt to suppress discourse would not have happened.
Shepherd offered her conclusion on Twitter:
Moral of the story: A university must be repeatedly publicly shamed, internationally, in order to apologize (oh, but keep the task force & investigation). Even then, ambiguous about free speech. Also, make sure to secretly record all meetings or they won’t take you seriously.— Lindsay Shepherd (@NewWorldHominin) November 21, 2017
ConclusionsIn spite of the good outcome here, cases like this are merely the “canary in the coal mine” showing a pervasive culture of bigotry and intolerance in academia. Few students are as gutsy as Shepherd. Most would submit to pressure, or more likely avoid any expression likely to upset the intolerant campus left.
The business about recording conversations is good advice, at least in one-party consent states. Bureaucrats need to face the possibility that their bullying tactics will be laid out in the open for all to see. And if they are not deterred by that possibility, they need to be exposed.