SAFS and Campus Politics at Western: Speech Codes on Campus

April 2002

My most vivid recollections of SAFS in its early years relate to the successes of the chapter at Western in campus politics. In September 1993, through accident or oversight, I failed to receive notification of a chapter meeting, with the result that I was not present when plans were made for the impending elections to the University Senate. On the following morning a colleague telephoned to tell me that, if I agreed, I was to be nominated as a SAFS candidate for Senate in the Social Science constituency.

My first inclination was to resist the idea on the ground that I would almost certainly be defeated, not having a wide circle of friends and acquaintances outside my own Department. My colleague argued, however, that I did have an unusually high level of name recognition, thanks to my habit of expressing controversial opinions in the letters column of the weekly Western News. Among other things, I had been vehement in my condemnation of the University's repressive Race Relations Policy and the seemingly fanatical "political correctness" of its Race Relations Officer - both of them posing threats to academic freedom that SAFS' influence later helped to eliminate, through the drastic revision of the first and the resignation (under fire) of the second.

Eventually I permitted myself to be persuaded, thinking that my candidacy would be an interesting experiment; precisely because I could not rely on personal popularity, the election would be more a referendum on my well-known political views than is usually the case in Senate contests. The result was that I spent nearly four years as a member of that body, from November 1993 until I took early retirement from the University in 1997.

One thing led to another; having won a Senate seat, I was asked in 1994 to run for the Faculty Association executive. Again SAFS demonstrated its political effectiveness, for I was elected along with two other SAFS nominees. For a time we held five of the executive's thirteen seats, as well as gaining a significant Senate representation. In 1995, when I was up for re-election to Senate, SAFS achieved what I remember as its greatest electoral victory. Out of nine candidates who won seats against opposition in faculty constituencies, no fewer than five ran with the local chapter's endorsement, and all but one of these were SAFS members. In a two-person race for a single seat, our former and future national president Doreen Kimura carried the Biosciences Division of Graduate Studies with more than 70 per cent of the vote. David Munoz, former coordinator of the local chapter, headed the poll in the Faculty of Medicine by a comfortable margin. Nowhere did a SAFS-supported candidate suffer defeat.

The value of holding seats in Senate was apparent in the spring of 1997, when the forces of "political correctness" in the Department of Sociology tried to bring about adoption of a departmental code of "ethics" severely restricting freedom of expression. After Doreen Kimura and I drew attention to the issue on the Senate floor, the senior administration gave assurances regarding the equal right to academic freedom enjoyed by all members of faculty, regardless of departmental affiliation. The forces of repression in Sociology failed to get their way.

In later years the UWO chapter's political activity declined, but presumably it could be revived if a situation arose that placed SAFS' principles in renewed jeopardy. What was accomplished earlier is evidence of what could be accomplished in future, and of what perhaps could be accomplished in other universities, if the "politically correct" were to offer sufficient provocation.