Stephen Slemon: University placed self-protection and risk-management over commitment to openness and inclusion

Stephen Slemon has agreed to let us repost this from Another version may appear in the Edmonton Journal:

I’m saddened by our decision to bar student, staff, and Occupy Edmonton protesters from the campus grounds on Wednesday, and I think we sent the wrong message to the many people throughout the province who support us in our attempt to excel as a public institution. 

Universities are by definition places of diversity. Their first principle is freedom of expression in the pursuit of truth. To hold to this principle, they need to be champions of open inquiry and debate, and they need to make possible the voicing of dissent. Their capacity for tolerance and inclusion is in itself the university’s strongest form of “quiet public advocacy.” 

When universities fall short of that principle and that capacity, they become visible symbols of our collective social failure to hear each other out. This is how Kent State is now commonly remembered , and how U C Davis will be remembered in the future. This is why the High Court Order of December 2011 banning all occupation-style protests at Birmingham University for a twelve-month period has been condemned by human rights organizations like Amnesty International and the Index on Censorship. 

Wednesday’s smaller act of exclusion at the U of A will pass with lesser public notice, but it will be remembered by many for placing the University’s internal commitment to self-protection and risk-management above its public commitment to openness and inclusion. I believe we can do better in the work of communicating the importance of our particular form of social service to those people we place “out there.”

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