“Every man who says frankly and fully what he thinks is so far doing a public service. We should be grateful to him for attacking most unsparingly our most cherished opinions.” – John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
For centuries, our ancestors fought for free and democratic societies. Democracy, however, is a system that seems to be missing from most university in Canada, as reported in the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom’s (JCCF) Campus Freedom Index, 2014. The report, published by the non-profit legal organization based in Calgary, Alberta, aides parents and students in “choosing a school that will encourage, not stifle, their free expression rights on campus.”
University rankings, such as those based on teaching, classroom size, and research capacity, are common practice, however, measuring the state of free speech on university campuses is a novel endeavor. The author of the JCCF report acknowledges that it is the first of its kind in Canada, albeit it is the fourth edition. Between 2011 and 2014, the number of universities in the sample increased by nearly 200 per cent–from 18 to 52–which decreases the likelihood of bias and inconsistent measurement.
The Campus Freedom Index measurement relies primarily on two criteria: 1) university practices and policies and 2) student union practices and policies. Based on them, the author assigns five letter grades: A, B, C, D, and F. According to the report, “There are 24 campuses that earned at least one ‘F,’ assigned to the university or its student union.” Overall, the authored assigned only five ‘A’ grades to universities and student unions in the survey.
Nova Scotia has become a popular destination for Canadian and international students seeking a university education in recent years: in 2010, the province attracted 35,131 full-time university students–40 per cent of whom are international students. An increase in popularity, however, merits an increase in responsibility–a responsibility to preserve our free and democratic society.
The table below shows seven universities in Nova Scotia, the amount of funding they receive from the provincial government, and their rating according to the JCCF Campus Freedom Index, 2014. University of King’s College is the only university that received an ‘A’ grade, whereas the three largest universities in the province–Dalhousie University, Saint Mary’s University, and Cape Breton University–received an F grade.
Regarding the performance of student unions at universities in the province, the Acadia University Student Union received the sole ‘A’ grade for standing with its student newspaper The Athenaeum in defense of free speech, whereas the two largest student unions in Nova Scotia received an ‘F’ grade for their student union practices: Dalhousie University Student Union (DSU) and Saint Mary’s University Student Union. As a student at Dalhousie University, I felt shame when I saw the report. DSU has regressed from a ‘D’ grade in 2013 to an ‘F’ in 2014 due to their policies, whereas the university itself received an ‘F’ grade for the second year in a row.
One thing was very clear from the report: DSU has not amended their outdated policies, despite the student newspaper, The Dalhousie Gazette, covering the 2012 edition of the report and a former student of the university conceding the absence of freedom of speech on campus in an interview with The Prince Arthur Herald. It is time to update the outdated policies, embrace those that accommodate free speech, and discard those that reflect a negative image of campus.
Last winter, the DSU president violated the union’s constitution, the very constitution he must uphold as the leader. How could DSU expect students to follow their policies when the leader ignores them? Moreover, although some critics argue about the credibility of the JCCF, it is the methodology underpinning the report that is most important. The authors use a very simple and straightforward method to evaluate campus freedom and there is an important message within: universities and student unions in Nova Scotia, and throughout the country, must take the freedom of speech seriously and should strive for better results in the 2015 report.
Rinzin Ngodup is an AIMS on Campus Student Fellow who is pursuing a graduate degree in economics at Dalhousie University. The views expressed are the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies