The last bastion of free speech?
By Kelly Marcella and Maggie Wrobel
COLLEGE: WESTERN'S MOST RECOGNIZABLE LANDMARK. Last bastion
of free speech or hotbed of political correctness?
Political correctness is one of those terms that is constantly
thrown around - but does anyone actually know what it means?
he term most often refers to the act of consciously avoiding
the use of words or actions that could possibly offend someone.
This is not a straightforward "black and white" definition,
however, it's important the existence of this phenomenom be
noted, discussed and questioned - especially in a university
It's hard to disagree with the claim universities arguably
be one of the last remaining bastions of free speech. After
all, a place of higher learning should pride itself on the encouragement
and education of critical thinking.
Western psychology professor Heinz Klatt claims that while
university professors and administrators claim to work together
under a mandate that encourages research and teaching free of
restrictions, the reality that exists at Western is very different
from the proposed mandate.
"[The administration] claims that [professors] must not
be regulated or controlled by any restrictions, because universities
are the prime institutions of society that must be free. However,
students at Western are systematically deprived of learning
about social, racial and sexual differences between people [due
to the fear of political persecution]," Klatt says.
"I think over time many professors at universities have
become increasingly sensitive for fear that they will somehow
offend or be misinterpreted as offensive," says Donald
Abelson, professor of political science at Western. "There
is a delicate balance between being sensitive and not being
forced to misrepresent views you wish to convey."
Abelson says the people who tend to be overly concerned with
political correctness are those who tend to infuse their own
opinions into their teachings. "I become concerned when
[and if] faculty spread their political gospel," he says,
adding faculty should teach the material at hand and educate
Klatt argues that, although there is no formal censorship of
faculty at Western, professors are unable to speak freely in
their classrooms. "No professor dares speak his mind honestly
because no one would dare teach anything that's not deemed politically
However, not all professors, such as English professor Bryce
Traister, share Klatt's viewpoint. "While there have been
a few notorious examples of faculty being censored or excoriated
for their views, it is simply untrue that the feminists, etc.
are out to stifle free inquiry and debate or have in any way
succeeded in doing so," Traister states.
According to Western's VP-academic Greg Moran, in no way does
the university deliberately attempt to create an environment
where professors feel they cannot speak freely and he certainly
hopes this is not the environment at Western. Moran emphasizes
the need to have an environment where critical and difficult
issues can be discussed in a respectful and sensible manner.
"I don't think PCness is a good thing. We want an atmosphere
where we respect diversity and the sensibilities of others,
which is very different from [political correctness],"
Moran explains. "I don't think a respectful atmosphere
need be one that impedes candid and open debate."
Abelson agrees with this assessment, noting there should be
a delicate balance between being sensitive and ensuring you
are not misrepresenting the views you wish to convey. He says
universities should continue to encourage the exchange of informed
views and attempt to get rid of uninformed opinions, such as
ones based on ignorance.
Moran further notes that if Western's environment is one where
critical and difficult issues can not be discussed as a result
of the sensibilities of others, there exists the problem.
Klatt disagrees with this assessment however, noting the definition
of "harassment" has changed in such a way at the university
level that it has begun to affect what is being taught in classrooms
For example, Klatt claims the use of university codes of conduct,
such as those that make reference to relations between the sexes
and race relations, are cleverly concealed "speech codes"
which limit both the behaviour and the speech of faculty members
in an "Orwellian (and) communist manner."
According to Moran, a host of Western policies are in place
to ensure balance between freedom of speech and a respectful
atmosphere. Policies on race relations and sexual harassment
provide people with the opportunity to address any cases in
which the atmosphere has been disrespectful, he says.
On the other hand, Moran notes, it's important to critically
balance these policies with the ability to discuss issues that
are difficult and may be offensive, such as euthanasia, gay
rights and the role of religion in global conflict.
"We have to create an atmosphere where we can learn how
to evaluate issues logically and with critical judgement. It's
a problem if we can't discuss things," Moran says, adding
the issue is very important and the university must continue
to strive to reach a balance.