The head of Wilfrid Laurier University officially apologized to a teaching assistant for a meeting in which she was berated for playing a video clip of controversial professor Jordan Peterson in a classroom.
The brouhaha all started when Lindsay Shepherd, a graduate student at the university, played a clip from TVO’s The Agenda with Peterson, a U of T professor, debating against the use of gender-neutral pronouns—the subject that has garnered him significant fame and criticism globally. Shepherd played the video for a class of first-year communications students.
Shepherd, the teaching assistant, was told by university officials that by showing the clip—which had been aired on public television—that she was creating a “toxic environment” for her students. The professor that conducted the meeting, Dr. Nathan Rambukkana, indicated that might have broken the law and, at one point, said the clip “is like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler.”
Shepherd secretly recorded the meeting and released it to media several days ago which led to the incident becoming talking point regarding freedom of speech on post-secondary campuses. Many high-profile academic personalities, including Peterson, came to the defence of Shepherd and criticized Laurier for censorship.
In the letter of apology, which was posted on the Wilfrid Laurier website, the university's president and vice-chancellor, Deborah MacLatchy, said that she was first able to listen to the meeting through “the media.”
“After listening to this recording, an apology is in order,” reads the open letter. “The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires. I am sorry it occurred in the way that it did and I regret the impact it had on Lindsay Shepherd.”
Rambukkana also posted a lengthy open letter of apology to the university's website, in which he said, “everything that has happened since the meeting has given me occasion to rethink not only my approach to discussing the concerns that day, but many of the things I said in our meeting as well.”
“I should have seen how meeting with a panel of three people would be an intimidating situation and not invite a productive discussion,” reads Rambukkana’s letter. “Had I tried harder to create a situation more conducive to talking these issues through, things might have gone very differently, but alas I did not.”
Rambukkana also directly apologized for likening the playing of the debate to Hitler. In response to the public apologies Shepherd took to a Twitter account she made specifically to address to public about the incident.
“Moral of the story: A university must be repeatedly publicly shamed, internationally, in order to apologize (oh, but keep the task force & investigation),” Shepherd tweeted. “Even then, ambiguous about free speech. Also, make sure to secretly record all meetings or they won't take you seriously.”
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