December 11, 2006
Mr. Shawn Menard
President, Carleton University Students Association (CUSA)
Members of Carleton University Student Council
401 Unicentre Bldg.
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6
Dear Mr. Menard and Members of the Student Council:
I am writing to you as president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship. We are a national organization of university faculty members and interested others who are dedicated to the defense of academic freedom and reasoned debate.For further information, please visit our website at www.safs.ca.
According to an article in the National Post (December 7, 2006), the Carleton University Student Council recently passed a motion denying funding and space to any student groups “… that seek to limit or remove a woman’s options in the event of pregnancy…” We are not familiar with the status of CUSA within Carleton University or with the constitution of your organization, so we will not comment on the procedural or legal legitimacy of your council’s decision.
However, as an organization that believes in academic freedom for both faculty and students, we are opposed to your motion, because it contributes to a climate of intolerance to contrary ideas that is incompatible with the integrity and success of the Academy. The Academy is the one institution in society that is dedicated to the discovery and transmission of truth. Experience teaches us that the truth can not be found without unfettered debate over conflicting ideas. In order to accomplish this goal, advocates of opposing positions must be encouraged to challenge each other in vigorous and reasoned debate that will sharpen the issues and allow free individuals to choose among competing views.
What your motion has accomplished is not the promotion of debate critical to a healthy university but instead the shortchanging of Carleton’s students by restricting their exposure to an opposing point of view. That some may challenge and disagree with the opinion of the majority of Carleton students is not any reason to deny the other side a platform to voice their views. Today, you may feel you struck a blow for women’s rights, but you have also laid the bases for some future council to deny support to other groups, including groups whose aims you personally agree with. Much better that all have their say and the winners of the argument be the ones with the best evidence, logic, and ideas rather than the ones with the biggest sticks.
We call on you to rescind the present motion, and show that you have confidence in the student body at Carleton University to sort these things out for themselves, without the heavy hand of the Student Council interfering with their ability to make an informed decision.
Clive Seligman, President