The controversy at Wilfrid Laurier University that dominated the Canadian media cycle as of late has seemingly (hopefully?) come to an end. It also seems that, after some revelations provided by an independent fact-finding report, that it was a controversy that never really needed to happen.
The story behind the brouhaha goes thusly: a 23-year-old graduate student at the university, Lindsay Shepherd, was giving a tutorial for a intro level communications class and played a video of controversial professor Jordan Peterson. The clip in particular was shown on the public broadcaster TVO, and was of a debate that Peterson was having in regards to gender-neutral pronouns (the subject that has thrust Peterson to infamy and garnered him both global fame, riches and criticism.)
After an alleged complaint was made in regards to showing this clip, Shepherd was brought into a meeting with three of her superiors. In this meeting, which including Dr. Nathan Rambukkana, the professor she was assisting in the program, Shepherd was told that she was creating a “toxic environment” and playing the clip without context was likened to “neutrally playing a speech by Hitler.”
Shepherd secretly recorded the meeting and released it to media causing the ever-smoldering flames of the free speech on campus debate to flare up in Canada and, somehow, abroad. Shepherd’s cause was championed by many in the pundit class and was likewise demonized by others. This caused both Deborah MacLatchy, WLU’s President, and Rambukkana to publish open letters of apology to Shepherd.
No matter what you think of the issue, it is easy to see that WLU wants this to go away. Which is why it must sting when, according to a recent fact-finding report coming to light, it looks like none of this should have happened in the first place. On Monday, MacLatchy put out a statement in regards to an independent fact checker they hired to look into the matter.
“There were numerous errors in judgement made in the handling of the meeting with Ms. Lindsay Shepherd, the TA of the tutorial in question,” reads the statement. “In fact, the meeting never should have happened at all. No formal complaint, nor informal concern relative to a Laurier policy, was registered about the screening of the video.”
The statement goes on to completely exonerate Shepherd of any wrongdoing, saying “showing a TVO clip for the purposes of an academic discussion is a reasonable classroom teaching tool.” It was also found that there is no reason to believe that Shepherd didn’t provide content to the clip before showing it.
Meanwhile, a letter from the faculty staff of WLU’s communication program, which was published on Medium by Buzzfeed Canada's Ishmael Daro, said that while the meeting was “mishandled” they still have several concerns. These include saying that “individuals who see themselves as noble defenders of free speech” are intimidating both staff and students in the communication program.”
“Commentators who characterize our students as millennial ‘snowflakes’ not only insult our students but also paint a dramatically inaccurate representation of what happens in our classrooms, where students participate in facilitated, respectful, and rigorous critical and scholarly discussion regularly,” reads the letter.
Since the incident became international news, Shepherd has become a bit of a folk hero among the anti-SJW crusaders, and is becoming more and more Peterson-like on Twitter as time goes on. She’s appeared on numerous Canadian news shows, gained the praise of Peterson, Michael Shermer and others of that ilk, and was even flown south of the border to take part in the popular free speech Youtube show the Rubin Report.
In the final portion of MacLatchy's statement, she says that the university will be putting in procedures to make sure that it never happens again. It also clearly shows how much the University would like to put this trouble behind them.
“Today, we turn the page on a very unfortunate incident,” reads the statement. “We are here to make sure it does not happen again. We are here to put an end to the ongoing politicization of this issue.”
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