Statement from President Dr. Charlotte Yates on Academic Freedom, Democracy

During the last 10 days, we have witnessed the deeply troubling, oppressive and anti-democratic occupation of Ottawa by those who promote discriminatory, anti-science and anti-democratic messages under the guise of “freedom of speech.”

Upholding academic freedom and freedom of expression is a commitment of the University of Guelph as well as an obligation for all universities in Ontario. I have very strong beliefs on this issue, and it is important that, as president, I reiterate this message to Senate here today.

As an institution of higher learning – one that strives to maintain and advance the principles of academic freedom, inclusion and tolerance – we are a key defender of our society’s democratic structures and processes that also models rigorous dialogue and debate over contentious issues and ideas.

I must be clear that violence, vandalism and intimidation do nothing to advance discussion or further inform free debate. In fact, they obstruct it.

Further, antisemitism and xenophobia have no place in public discourse. Those who encourage or excuse this discrimination under the guise of freedom of speech have a gross misunderstanding of what that means.

I believe that calling out these abhorrent forces when we see them is an important part of our commitment to academic principles. I must say again that I fundamentally agree with everyone’s right to voice their opinion and protest, and as a former student, faculty member and current University leader, I have continually defended that right. But it is exactly because of this belief that I am speaking out against the wave of intimidation and vigilantism that has spilled over from Ottawa over the last number of days.

As our society looks to combat this deluge of division and hate, I encourage our community and our Senate to engage in constructive and respectful dialogue and debate, so that we emerge stronger from these experiences and unite in our appreciation of the importance of academic freedom and independence of thought, free from discrimination or intimidation.