Talks are underway at the University of Toronto for an academic forum to discuss Bill C-16 and the gender provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC).
Although details are still being organized, it is expected that speakers at the forum, to be hosted by the Faculty of Arts & Science, would include Professor Jordan Peterson.
U of T News spoke with Professor David Cameron, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science, about the forum and his belief that the University has an important role to play in discussing controversial or difficult ideas and arguments.
Why is it so important to have the forum?
A university is supposed to be a place where there can be civil and respectful discussion of even the most highly controversial issues. In an academic forum, shouting and intimidation are out; rational argument, even if impassioned, is in.
Many people, inside and outside the University, believe that Professor Jordan Peterson’s arguments are utterly without merit, and should not be given the time of day. Many others, inside and outside the University, hold with equal conviction to the opposite proposition, namely, that Professor Peterson’s arguments have singular value, and that the dismissal of these arguments is an expression of ideology, not the product of thoughtful analysis.
In such polarized circumstances, it is appropriate that the University sponsor a forum, which aims to permit – in an academic setting – the rational examination of the various views raised by this controversy.
What do you hope to get out of the forum?
Ideally, a searching examination and assessment of the arguments in play, which would help the University community and interested members of our society to understand the issues more deeply and to develop reasoned positions on them.
Perhaps more realistically, given the envenomed nature of the debate, I would hope that the forum would demonstrate the University’s conscientious effort to establish space where the academic community can come together to consider even the most divisive matters in an environment of civility.
What is your response to those who disagree with the University for planning to hold the event?
First of all, I am disturbed by the fact that the controversy has created an environment in which harmful and threatening statements have been made, putting some vulnerable members of our community at risk. Trolls have said vile and hateful things on social media that have caused justifiable fear and anxiety. It is reprehensible that people feel entitled to indulge themselves in such behaviour, often behind the mask of anonymity.
Many who disagree with the holding of such a forum believe it will increase the temperature and further worsen what is already a bad situation. It is my hope that it will do the reverse: by exposing claims and arguments on all sides to the cold light of reason and analysis, the forum, if successful, will lower the temperature and assist the University community, and the society at large, to reflect on the issues in a calmer and more considered fashion. That, at least, is my hope.