November 13, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 42  

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Ruining academic debate

I love university. I love the beautiful Western girls that don't know I exist. I love cheap beer at The Spoke everyday. I love watching the Western football games. I used to love the guest speakers at Western.

That's right, I used to enjoy the guest speakers; but something has changed with the ones coming to Western.

Speakers are invited to Western in the spirit of sharing information and expanding minds. All of that is appropriate, isn't it? After all, universities tend to be bastions of critical thought and free speech.

Many speakers have come to Western in the same spirit universities stand for, such as the Canadian engineer that spoke about why the World Trade Center towers fell the way they did, or the recent Goodman lectures, which featured a former chairman of the American joint chiefs of staff.

The trend for some groups on campus is to invite more controversial speakers - which is great. Universities should push the envelope when dealing with sensitive issues because mainstream media does not offer the contentious points-of-view which spark thought and prompt discussion.

All of this becomes undermined when groups on campus begin competing with each other over political issues, for example, when controversial speakers are invited to lecture on campus just to prove a point for an interested group.

It seems two groups in particular are more concerned with furthering their causes by using guest speakers than actually creating academic debate.

The result is the loss of credibility for both sides of a conflict, as it lowers them to hurling mud at each other. With outside lecturers, these groups have turned lectures into political rallies in which members of the audience cheer or heckle the speakers or audience.

The flawed intentions behind inviting lecturers change their whole flavour and the lecture subjects. Instead of creating an atmosphere of comfort, these lectures, such as ones that deal with the Middle East conflict, create a tense environment where the audience feels they must choose sides.

The solution is not to begin censoring guest speakers from campus, but maybe groups should have the maturity to consider the merits of their reasons for inviting a speaker to give a lecture - otherwise this childish war of words will continue.



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