After a low turnout on Tuesday, a second session on campus free speech Wednesday attracted a slightly bigger audience and was attended, and largely dominated, by the Ryerson faction of Socialist Fightback.
This was the second event the Office of the Provost, Students held in attempt to get feedback from the community on the university’s freedom of speech policies. Ian Crookshank, interim executive director of student affairs, led the event, accompanied by two student members of the senate—Arvin Jagayat and Jacob Circo. The talk was attended by five members of Fightback and three other student participants.
Hermes Azam, a fourth-year student in the urban planning program and member of Fightback, said the low turnout at Tuesday’s event was indicative of Ryerson students’ apathy toward the free speech issue on campus. He also said there are many other more important issues plaguing students, including housing and student fees.
“I want to encourage the Ryerson administration and senate to stop wasting student time and money on exploring and debating non-issues when there’s actually serious issues that need to be discussed and addressed,” Hermes said. “When student democracy itself is under attack, and student fees are the highest they’ve ever been, when students can’t afford housing in the various cities they live in, the last thing that they want is to waste their time on debating on issues with bureaucrats, frankly.”
However, Niki Michas, a third-year social work student who is also a member of Fightback, pointed out that without immense student input, the senate cannot create an informed policy, and a low turnout at these events is not an example of fair, democratic process.
“I’m not saying that there necessarily shouldn’t be policy on campus, but students should be involved in those policies; this is our campus, right? We pay the tuition here, we are the ones here every day,” Michas said.
In August 2018, after an already initiated review process into the university’s statement, the Ontario government issued a directive stating all post-secondary institutions had to have a freedom of speech or expression policy implemented that aligned with the framework set out by the province.
Crookshank said after a revised draft was presented for approval to the senate during a meeting in November 2018, the immense student protest and faculty concern led the senate to move forward with the 2010 statement to meet the Jan. 1, 2019 deadline set out by the government.
“The idea is not dissimilar to that of several other universities that already had freedom of expression or freedom of speech statements, which was to use what already exists with the understanding that we have been managing freedom of speech issues on campus as a university for a very long period of time and we believe we’ve been doing it relatively well,” Crookshank said. “So why reinvent the wheel?”
The conversation was largely dominated by members of the student group, citing concerns that the current Student Code of Non-Academic Conduct, part of the freedom of speech policies on campus, may limit protest on campus.
“We’ve been told by the Ryerson senate that they support our right to protest as long as it’s not disruptive,” Wilson said. “That’s basically saying as long as we protest in our pre-approved location, at a pre-approved time, pre-approved tactics and pre-approved slogans, if we are not disruptive, that is as long as we don’t make a difference.”
However, Crookshank said that complaints involving non-academic conduct would be handled on a case-by-case basis.
“The code itself is about ensuring that students have fair process and that they’re given an opportunity to respond to the complaint,” Crookshank said. “At no point in time does the university move forward without making deliberate attempts to gather the story from both the complainant and the respondent.”
James Wilson, a third-year economics student, shared the sentiment of his fellow group members, and said that although the group has no concern with the current free speech statement adopted by the senate, a low turnout is not indicative of students’ willingness to mobilize on issues they find important.
“There is no crisis of free speech on campus. You can tell by the low turnout at these type events how little students care because they’re not worried about the freedom of speech on campus,” Wilson said. “If you had a town hall on our tuition fees we would have a massive turnout because that’s something people actually care about, it actually affects them. This is a fake crisis.”