As organizations that represent students, faculty, and workers at Toronto Metropolitan University we are concerned with the TMU administration’s response to the October 20th letter to the Dean signed by over 70 students from the Lincoln Alexander School of Law. The launching of a formal external review as to whether the Student Code of Non-Academic Conduct was breached by the law students sends a chilling message to the broader TMU community about the free exchange of ideas on campus. 

On October 26th, 23 individuals from 16 companies, who are members and alumni of the Legal Innovation Zone signed a letter that said they were going to re-evaluate their relationship with TMU unless more robust action was taken. The next day TMU announced it was launching a formal external review. The appearance that this investigation is driven by the complaints of donors and lobby groups is troublesome.

Whether individuals or organizations agree or disagree with the political statements made by the law students, members of the TMU community should have the right to voice their political opinions. TMU’s core values, outlined in its 2020-25 Academic Plan make it clear that “learning can be transformative but can also, naturally, generate discomfort – it is important, therefore, to create safe spaces for difficult conversations.” How can we make safe spaces for the exchange of ideas when the University initiates an external review of students who engaged in political expression? The University’s own Student Code of Non-Academic Conduct clearly states that “the University recognizes students’ right to express themselves and engage in respectful debate and discussion.” 

The University’s stated commitment to free speech notes that TMU “does not avoid controversies, difficult ideas, or disagreements over deeply held views. When such disagreements arise within the University or within a broader social context, the University’s primary responsibility is to protect free speech within a culture of mutual respect.” TMU recognizes that there are limits to the right of free speech that are recognized in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When speech on campus is used in a way that is itself unlawful or prevents the lawful exercise of free speech by others the University may intervene. The statement by the law students has not been deemed illegal nor has it shut down the speech of others. It is the Administration, not the students, whose actions are the ones curbing the free exchange of ideas and speech on campus.  

The law students who signed the letter in solidarity with Palestine have faced a public backlash. Their names have been read out in the legislature and they have had their future careers threatened. The formal investigation of the students sends the wrong message to students and workers about engaging in the free exchange of ideas on campus. Unfortunately, the message is one of suppression and threat. Neither of these is desirable and both will discourage the expression of ideas that may be unpopular but whose examination can occur in no other way.

We understand and respect there are a range of opinions about Israel-Palestine in the TMU community. As organizations on campus we oppose all forms of anti-semitism, Islamophobia, racism and any other form of hate. We strive to achieve and support the respectful exchange of ideas which should be free of reprisals and harassment. Rather than foster a culture of openness and critical discourse, the Administration’s response has undermined TMU’s commitment to free speech and our core values. 

Toronto Metropolitan Graduate Students’ Union

Toronto Metropolitan Association of Part-time Students

Toronto Metropolitan Faculty Association

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