Canada is Free and Freedom is Its Nationality

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Alberta, Free Speech or Free University?

Freedom of speech is very, very important.

Almost as important as institutional autonomy.

Or private property.

An Alberta judge
has ruled that universities, in their dealings with students, are government agencies, and thus are subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Thus, the U of C was out of line when it put two students on probation for starting a Facebook group criticizing one of their professors. Some people are seeing this as a victory for freedom of speech, and an especial boon for pro-life students who frequently face opposition, discipline, and arrest for putting forward their view on campus.

But this is not necessarily a victory for freedom. Universities enjoy autonomy for a reason, several actually. And even though this autonomy can and is abused, very often at the expense of right-wing and/or pro-life people, that is not necessarily a good reason to flush it down the tube. Do we really want universities to be government institutions, subject to all government rules and regulations? Really? As George Jonas says:
Institutional autonomy is one of the pillars of liberty. Societies are free to the extent that their institutions — family, church, university — are off limit to the state. This doesn’t sit well with the state, which often uses the sword of justice or “protection” to cut through institutional autonomy in its warfare upon liberty. Using the Charter to sharpen the sword is a bright idea — bright enough to obscure its function.
It's not that I particularly trust university administration to guard freedom of speech. I don't. But given a choice between the government and the university setting the rules, I think I would go with the university.

At least it is easier to switch universities than nationalities. (And at this point, I'm not sure what other country to run to)

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