Recently, two contributors, in separate cases, wanted to write responses to recent Varsity News articles. The catch was that their viewpoints were conservative — or contrary to popular opinion — and they wanted to be granted anonymous bylines. One justified this request based on a fear that publicly expressing their views would cause retribution in terms of employment prospects.
I rejected both requests, because it is protocol at The Varsity to attach an author’s name to their article. This is especially the case for the Comment section, as it is an arena for public discussion, dialogue, and debate in the U of T community. It is essential to contextualize who you are, and where you are coming from, when you provide a perspective. This is why every Comment contributor receives a short biography at the end of their article.
The hope is that productive discourse, in good faith, can lead to better understandings of the opposition’s views, even if the issue or policy in question is a contentious one to start. Anonymity, however, means that the original author cannot be held to account for their words.
If you hold a conservative or unpopular opinion, and you want to share it with the community, you ought to be able to publicly stand by and defend it. This means building a strong and robust case for why you believe what you believe, even if it is unpopular, and why other students should listen to you.
But some students may feel that publicly sharing conservative views leads to backlash, especially given our left-leaning readership and contributor base. They therefore refrain from contributing, which leads to their underrepresentation in The Varsity’s opinion pages. Others accuse The Varsity of an outright biased, ‘social justice’ agenda that caters to its ‘social justice’ contributors and audience.
Given that most of The Varsity’s opinion pieces are left-leaning, where politics is concerned, it is important to take these accusations seriously — especially since some students are pleased by the prospect of opting out of our levy with Doug Ford’s recently announced Student Choice Initiative.
First, it is true that our readership tends to respond unfavourably to conservative articles. But that is not something we can control, be assigned responsibility for, or answer to. What we do control are the publication standards that guide what kind of opinion pieces are published. Simply put, if you have a well-reasoned, substantiated argument on a topic that affects students, and that might nudge students to think differently, we aren’t concerned about ideology. We will publish you.
What we won’t publish is anything that is hateful — for instance, views that sympathize with white supremacy — because that won’t productively engage with readers, to say the least, and it will irredeemably compromise our reputation.
We also control for conspiratorial, speculative, and contrarian viewpoints — that is, opinions that alarm audiences based on conjecture rather than evidence, or that stokes controversy for the sake of controversy. We also don’t like strawmanning. Both sides of the spectrum are subject to this sort of opinion writing, and we try our best to reject these kinds of articles.
When it comes to accusations about our ‘agenda,’ it is important to clarify that editorials written by The Varsity’s editorial board represent the opinion of the newspaper and typically lean left. The board, like the rest of the Comment section, is also strictly separate from and does not influence the News section, which is obligated to factual reporting. Furthermore, independent opinion pieces that oppose the editorial board and our left-leaning readership are regularly commissioned.
For instance, even though the editorial board has consistently opposed Ford’s policies, The Varsity has also published numerous pro-Ford pieces, whether defending Ford’s campus free speech policy, minimum wage freeze, Toronto city council size cut, or Ford’s postsecondary education announcements. Aside from Ford, we have also published letters that defended anti-abortion protests and an article that defended Steve Bannon’s right to speak at the Munk Debate.
When it comes to student politics, contributors have written about the value of conservative students getting involved in their unions or holding them to account from the outside, or how voluntary student unionism might improve political participation. I encourage readers to especially read through the past work of Sam Routley, the UTSG Campus Politics Columnist, to get a sense of what well-written and reasoned conservative pieces might look like.
When it comes to unpopular opinions in general, consider the controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP). While the editorial board was critical of the UMLAP, and numerous other anti-UMLAP pieces were published, we did not hesitate to feature a pro-UMLAP op-ed.
Ultimately, we value opinion pieces that go against the views of the editorial board and most readers because, within reasonable limits, they provide balance and prompt folks to consider and learn from the opposition’s views. Indeed, our Governance Policy obligates us to a diversity of opinion. And if you review our letters to the editor this past year, both online and in print, we’ve also been very open to criticism of our coverage.
If you’re a conservative, or you hold an opinion that might be unpopular among fellow U of T readers, that shouldn’t be the reason that you hold yourself back from writing for us. What is important is the quality of your argument, the relevance of what you have to say to the U of T community, and the prospect of engaging in good faith with the other side.
And remember, The Varsity is student-run and is the product of the hundreds of students who choose to participate in it each year. If you don’t see your views reflected well in the opinion pages, go beyond just criticizing — pitch your ideas and ask to write for us. The Varsity is what you, the students, make of it.
— Ibnul Chowdhury,