Gazette (University of Western Ontario), March 7, 2007
Saint Mary’s University in Halifax cancelled a debate on race and racial discrimination that was to take place Monday between an SMU philosophy professor and a controversial American writer.
The debate was to feature Jared Taylor, editor of American Renaissance, a publication known to advocate white supremacy.
In a press statement, SMU stated the debate was cancelled because of security concerns, and though it supports academic freedom and freedom of speech, it also had “an obligation to provide a safe environment for members of the campus community and those who visit campus.”
Professor Peter March, who arranged the debate with Taylor without the university’s support, said SMU was pushed to cancel the event after discovering information on a blog stating Taylor would be “cut up with a knife” if he spoke at SMU.
Taylor said the information was fabricated but SMU cancelled the event anyway.
In January, Dalhousie University cancelled a debate to be held between Taylor and Professor David Divine, chair of Black Canadian Studies.
Instead, Taylor held a lecture at the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax. Protesters, some wearing bandanas over their faces, refused to let him speak and physically forced him out of the room.
March is also familiar with controversy; last year he caught the university and media’s attention by posting controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohammed on his office door to make a statement about academic freedom and promote debate on campus.
“It’s a violation of academic freedom,” March said of the cancellation. “I’ll be grieving through my union and through the Canadian Association of University Teachers.”
Taylor was equally unhappy with the university’s decision.
“They were very nervous about [the debate] happening on their campus because their campus is dominated by political correctness, so they clutched to any opportunity that came along to cancel it,” Taylor said.
“[The University officials] were more or less forced into this by Professor March in the name of freedom of speech. So, they were looking for any possible way to be spared the agony of doing something not politically correct.”
Taylor and March agreed to pay for six security guards. Attendees were to be searched and no one wearing a mask would be admitted.
The main points of controversy in Taylor’s discourse are his comments on how immigration leads to violence and conflict.
Though he disagrees with Taylor’s views, March thinks they should be debated and not ignored by the Canadian public.
He believes Canadians are hypersensitive about discussing race because of cultural insecurities.
“The reason is that secretly [Canadians] are afraid if they open up a discussion about race, they will find out that they themselves are racists and that they’re unable to overcome the issue even when the evidence is totally persuasive that racism is an unjustified part of social policy.”
March and Taylor are looking to hold the debate at another venue.
This week, St. Mary’s University cancelled a scheduled immigration debate between philosophy professor Peter March and Jared Taylor, the editor of the magazine American Renaissance, which some have labelled a purveyor of white supremacy.
The debate was cancelled because of overwhelming backlash to Taylor’s speaking on campus; Taylor reportedly received threats of violence. While the university maintains the event was cancelled for security reasons, March criticized administration for holding back constructive debate.
It’s understandable the university might show concern for its students’ safety in a scenario where violent protest is a possibility, but it’s a sad state of affairs when the university’s main concern is with liability rather than academics and argumentation.
As a place of higher learning, the school should be capable of turning its attention to scholarly matters and students should be willing to hear the opposition’s case before taking to arms.
The university’s decision should therefore be made based on the nature of Taylor’s argument, not safety concerns.
While there’s a realistic chance Taylor’s views are motivated by his racist leanings, it’s unfair to assume his debate will consist of hatred rather than legitimate reasoning.
As the event’s organizer, March was certainly obligated to ensure Taylor argued in an appropriate manner. However, since the university can’t infer as to his argumentation, it shouldn’t cancel the debate on the basis that his views are fuelled by hatred.
Furthermore, the university should look past the student backlash to allow for open discussion. The entire point of debate is convincing the opposing side of a viewpoint; while the majority of students disagree with Taylor’s views, the best way to mend the difference is through open forum.
As such, it’s unreasonable to expect anything to change in the absence of public discussion. Taylor’s view may be wrong, but it will never be changed if it isn’t debated and publicly defeated.
Protesters of the debate intended to suppress Taylor’s view because they see it as negative and racist, but rather than defeating it as they wish to do, they simply let people cling to its underlying racism.
As such, the university should’ve allowed the event to happen. While student concern over the contents of Taylor’s debate is warranted, no one should assume his argumentation won’t be backed with some form of research and fact. Western Professor Phillipe Rushton, for example, has published highly unpopular views on how race and gender affect intelligence but hasn’t been muzzled as he at least bases his theories on research.
Taylor’s views will remain unaddressed until acknowledged in public forum and therefore should have been debated at St. Mary’s.