Last week, U of T launched a website, freespeech.utoronto.ca, detailing the university’s policies on free speech.
The launch was announced in a March 8 statement from U of T President Meric Gertler and Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr.
The new website contains a collection of policies and statements on free speech and related topics, gives links to statements issued by other organizations, and provides answers to frequently asked questions from the university community.
The university’s commitment to free speech is built upon two policies, the Statement of Institutional Purpose and the Statement on Freedom of Speech, both released by Governing Council in 1992. The university says “that commitment has been tested, defended, and enlarged” since 1992 with the 2006 Statement on Equity, Diversity, and Excellence. All three statements are available on the new website.
The university defines free speech as “the right to examine, question, investigate, speculate upon, and comment on issues without reference to prescribed doctrine, as well as the right to criticize society at large.” The website highlights that freedom of speech and expression is important on the university campus because debating alternative ideas and modes of thinking contributes to social change and advances human rights.
The website also details the responsibilities that accompany the right to free speech and freedom of expression. The university community and its policies are bound by both federal and provincial law, as well as an atmosphere of civility and inclusion important to the learning environment of U of T. The website stresses that the standards of respect and inclusion should not hinder but rather support academic freedom.
“An important foundation for the University of Toronto’s widely celebrated excellence is our academic community’s remarkable diversity – ethnic, racial, cultural, linguistic, religious, socio-economic, and intellectual,” the university says in answer to a frequently asked question on whether free speech is at odds with equity. The statement argues that, “The interaction and competition among so many different ideas stretch and test our beliefs and spark new insights, leading to discovery, understanding, and advances in the human condition.”
The university’s new website also includes information about freedom of speech on campus in relation to events and protests. The university maintains that when an event takes place on campus this does not mean that it has received the endorsement of the university administration. The website also reiterates that the right to peaceful protest is part of freedom of expression.