Online exclusive: The freedom to Facebook

The Canadian constitution is supposed to protect our freedoms. This charter, among other things, secures our right to freedom of speech. When a place of knowledge and learning declares itself exempt from the charter, a place that is protected under the charter to assemble freely and deliver information and knowledge to us freely, it becomes noticeably hypocritical.

As some of you may have heard, the U of C has again recently been infringing on student freedom of speech. A total of 10 students were charged with non-academic misconduct for creating a Facebook group criticizing sessional instructor Aruna Mitra. Keith Pridgen chose to appeal this ruling and took the case to court. After three years, his academic record was finally cleared, but only after being sentenced to two years of probation (later reduced to four months) and asked to submit a written apology.

All the while, the U of C asserted itself a “charter-free zone” as defence for the ruling, claiming the university is private property. This case, along with the stayed trespassing charges on Campus Pro-Life members shows us that the U of C may not be all that interested in free speech and more interested in protecting its own interests.

The university seems to use vague non-academic misconduct policy to exercise control over its students. We are all afraid of the dreaded mark on our record, something we have been taught to avoid since early childhood. Non-academic misconduct or a probation of any kind on a record means years of hard work and effort may lay waste. From fear of this kind of reprisal, we all prefer to stay in line, even if it may mean forgoing some of our rights protected under the charter.

It’s akin to the feudal system — peasants are forever subservient to lords who may abuse them and restrict their access to knowledge or freedom of expression. Many peasants believed the afterlife would bring better fortune and survived on that hope. The situation is somewhat similar here (although clearly not to the same degree). We allow the university to take away some of our constitutional rights so as to live in the hope of a better life in the future, a life that without post-secondary education may not be as enlightened or successful.

But let us remember that unlike the relation between lords and serfs, the relationship is between the university and students who partially fund the university. The relationship is much less master/slave and more service provider/service user. The university is providing us with a service — an education. We pay them for doing so, along with our parents and fellow citizen tax payers. Therefore, the university is working for us. As a measure of customer satisfaction, students should be allowed to express their opinions about the quality of education being received. Yes the university’s reputation may be on the line but as a public institution they must remain accountable to the public.

Keith Pridgen did pursue legitimate routes of complaint before launching the Facebook page. But he found that his voice was not being heard and therefore he needed to shout louder.

The university, an institution that uses free speech laws to provide its fundamental fuction, should avoid hypocrisy and let students freely express their opinions.

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