Canadian media have started to report that Lindsay Shepherd has launched a $3.6 million lawsuit against Laurier University and several of the individuals involved in her struggles at the University.
On a superficial level, Shepherd’s difficulties appear to have started when she showed a video of Jordan Peterson to a class. Peterson is currently a controversial figure as regards matters of freedom of expression and academic freedom. (See our news item regarding a recent Munk Debate on political correctness.) Stating that the trouble began with the video is superficial because the real trouble began with Shepherd’s academic approach. She seems to have an open mind and a willingness to engage in respectful, reasoned dialogue. That’s the real source of the trouble, isn’t it?
Freedom of expression begins with society’s willingness to engage in respectful (and sometimes non-respectful) and reasoned dialogue. It relies on society being willing to establish mutually-agreeable terminologies and definitions. It almost always leads to cooperative attempts to define measurable facts about the world. It is fundamentally bi-lateral or multi-lateral in nature.
Beyond the immediate circumstances of Shepherd’s lawsuit, a larger principle regarding employ-ability in academics is presented. That is whether employment in modern universities is multi-lateral, open and reasoned – or whether employment in modern academics is becoming unilateral, closed and subject to social orthodoxy (ie. mandated correct thinking).
The drive to social orthodoxy that may be observed in high-profile fields such as academics, journalism and politics should not be viewed as separate from the lives and careers of other Canadians. As opinion and policy leaders in these fields achieve success, their methods, policies and opinions tend to branch out to other public and private organizations. Shepherd’s lawsuit may be a sign of things to come in other professions. The question of Shepherd’s employ-ability in academics today could be the same question that more and more others must face in years to come.
Lindsay Shepherd participated in a Humanist Association of Ottawa panel discussion (May 3, 2018) along with other Canadian Academics. http://www.freedom-of-expression.ca helped to organize this important discussion.
Further Reading and Sources