Committee to eye policy on campus free speech

Western has struck an ad hoc committee dedicated to codifying, in consultation with the campus community, the university’s policy on free speech, Provost & Vice-President (Academic) Andrew Hrymak announced Monday.

The move comes in response to a directive issued by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities on Aug. 30 that requires all publicly assisted postsecondary institutions to develop and publicly post their own free speech policy by Jan. 1, 2019.

“This is an important undertaking for our campus community – one we are pursuing in an urgent and transparent manner,” Hrymak said, mentioning the topic has already been the focus of discussion at university Senate last week.

He continued, “At Western, the principle of academic freedom is a cornerstone of our mission to serve the public good through excellence in teaching, research and scholarship.”

The committee will be led by Arts & Humanities Dean Michael Milde, Chair of the Senate Operations & Agenda Committee, and include the following members:

  • Pam Bishop, Associate Professor and Associate Dean, Education (President and Provost appointee);
  • Colin Couchman, Director, Cyber Security and Business Services (Professional Managerial Association appointee);
  • Alison Hearn, Associate Professor, Information & Media Studies (University of Western Ontario Faculty Association appointee);
  • Michael Lynk, Associate Professor, Law (President and Provost appointee);
  • Treena Orchard, Associate Professor, Health Sciences (UWOFA appointee)
  • Stephen Pitel, Professor, Law (UWOFA appointee);
  • Mitchell Pratt, President, University Students’ Council (USC appointee);
  • Mary Blake Rose, President, Society of Graduate Students (SOGS appointee);
  • Samuel Trosow, Associate Professor, Law and Information & Media Studies (UWOFA appointee);
  • Tiffany Trudgeon, Graduate Affairs Assistant, Education (University of Western Ontario Staff Association appointee).

The committee’s first order of business will be to determine and communicate how campus members may participate in the consultation process, which will inform its primary task of drafting a policy that will be reviewed by Senate and approved by the Board of Governors.

The consultation period will occur within the next eight weeks, allowing Senate opportunities to review preliminary drafts at its next two meetings (Oct. 19 and Nov. 16) and thus enabling the Board of Governors the opportunity to review and approve the final policy draft at its meeting of Nov. 29.

“In the weeks ahead, you can anticipate more communication and information to be available on the work of the ad hoc committee, including how the consultation process will unfold and updates on the content of the draft policy itself,” Hrymak said. “In the meantime, I wish to thank members of the committee for leading this important process on Western’s behalf, and I thank all members of the campus community for supporting these students, faculty and staff colleagues as they work to fulfill their mandate.”

Western’s strategic plan, Achieving Excellence on the World Stage, states that the university will “uphold the right of all in our academic community to speak and write freely, and we expect all who study, teach and do research to uphold the highest ideals of scholarly responsibility.”

Hrymak also reaffirmed the Aug. 30 statement issued by the Council of Ontario Universities highlighting that “Ontario universities share the Ontario government’s interest in protecting freedom of expression, and are committed to working with all stakeholders, including faculty, students and the province, to provide opportunities for thoughtful debate and discussion on our campuses.”