If you have ten minutes, it would be well spent listening to this secretly recorded meeting between Lindsay Shepherd, a graduate student at Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University, and unnamed faculty and administration officials there. She was being disciplined for airing in a class a video by the controversial Canadian academic Jordan Peterson, who insists on the traditional pronoun usage “him” and “her,” and has become a pariah in Canadian academia because of it. Before the audio clip, here’s background on the story:
Lindsay Shepherd, a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University, said she ran afoul of school authorities after she aired a clip in two tutorials of a debate on gender-neutral pronouns featuring polarizing University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson.
The excerpt from TVO’s current affairs program The Agenda shows Peterson, who has famously refused to use gender pronouns other than “he” or “she,” defending his position against a professor who argued it was necessary to use the pronouns that a person prefers to be called.
Shepherd said she was chastised by her superiors for failing to condemn Peterson’s remarks outright and told her neutral approach to the clip was tantamount to remaining neutral on other objectionable views such as those of Adolf Hitler.
Shepherd said she was trying to demonstrate that the structure of a language can affect the society in which it is spoken in ways people might not anticipate. To illustrate her point, she said she mentioned that long-standing views on gender had probably been shaped by the gender-specific pronouns that are part of English’s fundamental grammatical structure.
The clip of Peterson debating sexual diversity scholar Nicholas Matte, she said, was meant to demonstrate ways in which the existence of gender-specific pronouns has caused controversy.
Shepherd said a student complained about the clip, which she showed to two tutorials of roughly 24 participants each. In response, she said, her supervisors censured her for airing the clips, told her she was “transphobic” for playing them and said she ought to have spoken out against the positions Peterson expressed during the excerpt.
She said she was permitted to keep her position so long as she agreed to file copies of her lesson plans in advance and allow faculty members to sit in on her sessions whenever they wished, constraints she said are not standard practice for Laurier.
If you think she’s exaggerating, listen to this. The “Hitler” accusation comes just past the 6:00 mark:
Shepherd is accused of “transphobia.” She asks her inquisitors how many complaints were filed against her. They told her that’s confidential. She is incredulous, not believing that they can’t even say how many students complained. They won’t budge.
It’s worth listening to the clip to hear how nicey-nice and bland the inquisitors are. These people are destroying academic freedom and the purpose of a university, and they’re doing so in anaesthetic tones that conceal the act of real violence to the core values of a university.
If this is how things are at Wilfrid Laurier University, why would any student in their right mind want to study there? This is not education; this is dealing with the complexity of the world by castrating one’s mind to free oneself from the temptation to think incorrect thoughts.
The humanities grad student at a public US university who sent me that clip adds:
Apparently, gender pronouns cannot be argued about. The time for that is over. The bigots lost. Questioning the Politburo’s pronouncements is strictly verboten. The admin and faculty are extremely explicit about this in the recording. The most vomit-inducing part was the incredible abuse of therapeutic language to cloak political agendas. The therapeutic paradigm is the trojan horse that has destroyed the universities. I mean, when I hear the word “safe” now, it just makes me angry.
I think I am now ready to defund the humanities in public universities. For me personally, it is very hard to say that, but when I am honest, we are doing more harm to students than good.
UPDATE: If the embedded audio clip above doesn’t appear on your screen, click here to access it.
UPDATE.2: A reader writes:
Hello, Rod! I’m a student who attends McGill University, and I wanted to say that your article resonated deeply with me. As an American who greatly values free expression, while understanding that the Canadian idea of it is different, I’ve been disappointed in what I’ve seen in Canadian academia.
McGill has had a slew of incidents in the last few years that show a worrisome trend towards shutting down voices outside the radical left echo chamber.
Let’s start with the gender issue. Last year, a Newman Catholic Students Center event on “Gender Mainstreaming and Transgender” was forcibly disrupted and shut down by student protestors calling theology experts “transphobic”. While I didn’t personally agree with the speakers, the manner in which students disrupted and shut down the event was saddening.
In 2009, McGill’s only anti-abortion student group, Choose Life, had its club status suspended through a student government vote. Once again, this is an example of the repression of dissenting voices on this campus. Other clubs like Socialist Fightback, a Communist group, continue to receive club status.
There is not only silence about these encroachments on freedom of expression, but tacit support from many members of the student body and student government. What happened at Wilfred Laurier doesn’t surprise me.
UPDATE.3: The president of Wilfrid Laurier, after listening to the recording of the meeting, has apologized to Lindsay Shepherd. Good — but what if she had not recorded the meeting? As a grad student in ANY university, I would never go into a meeting like this without a recording device.