It's been several weeks since the incident at Laurier University had taken place and attracted the spotlight of the world's alternative or "free speech" media, during that time we heard recordings of the "interview" that felt more like tribunal had taken place where Lindsay Shepard was interrogated by the faculty staff.
Her sin was to show a first-year communications class a video snippet from TV Ontario of two professors debating grammar, to give context - Some transsexual people prefer that they be referred to with gender-neutral pronouns such as “they” or “ze” rather than “he” or “she.” That, in turn, has led some universities to adopt gender-neutral pronoun policies.
Dr. Peterson, best described in this context as a "pronoun traditionalist" was against the idea of being compelled to use such anti linguistic terms such as Xe. Xir, Ze, Zir, even some as ridiculous as Wormkin or Wormself (for individuals who see themselves as [Animal]Kin), as bizarre and unbelievable as this sounds, it is clearly written in Bill-C16 that one MUST adhere to someones self described identity and whatever pronouns they choose.
Shepard, despite her being in the right within this context, she became distraught as accusations of transphobia and hate-speech were thrown around by the interrogators even going so far as to say that perhaps what Ms. Shepard did was potentially breaking the law.
The (for the lack of a better term) Tribunal was performed by a three-person panel which included; Ms. Shepards Super and Boss, Mr Nathan Rambukkana, a fellow Associate Professor, Mr. Herbert Pimlott and Adria Joel, Laurier's very own "Acting Manager of gendered violence, prevention and support."
Luckily for Shepard, She had the awareness of the situation to record her 40 minute ordeal which makes for some pretty Orwellian listening, Mr. Nathan Rambukkana's first direct question towards Shepard is whether she was ever a student of Dr. Jordan Peterson (Shepard replies: No.)
She fires back with her own question, asking what complaint has been launched against her and how many complaints have been received to which the panel answers saying that its confidential and throughout the 40 minute ordeal the underlining assumption the part of her "inquisitors" is that Shepard did something wrong by exposing her class to Petersons views on grammar
Peterson’s opinions on grammar, one professor tells her, are problematic because they haven’t been peer-reviewed.
Besides, the Professor continues, how can there be a debate about grammatical rules? They are rules. Accepting that there are two sides to the grammar debate is like accepting that there are two sides to the climate-change controversy. "Problematic".
The other male professor presents her with hypothetical questions. Would she be willing to air a debate that featured a white supremacist? What about Hitler?
Shepherd pleads that she was exposing students to both sides of a real debate that is going on in the real world. That, say her 'inquisitors', is the problem. Indeed, they say — using a word that comes up a lot in this session — it is “problematic.”
The gender violence manager informs Shepherd that she may have contravened the university’s gender and sexual violence policy and caused harm to trans students “by treating their pronouns as invalid.”
Perhaps, suggests one of the male Professors, Shepherd could have avoided all of this trouble by pointing out to the class beforehand that Peterson’s views on grammar are seen as (that magic word again) "problematic". “I should have used that word,” she says. “Problematic.”
A more fundamental problem is that much of the backlash was not, in fact, about defending Shepherd's freedom of expression. Many of the academics who spoke out were appalled at how the university reacted, not the fact that introducing a controversial issue in a class was perceived as a problem in the first place.
For example, some argued this whole incident was really a problem of TA training or graduate supervision, which implies, that Shepherd did something wrong. There was a strong undercurrent, even as people expressed such disdain for how Laurier university handled the situation, even if Shepard had offended at least one student, a problem existed, and the university simply bungled its response.
This is a reflection of a far broader issue that is relevant to the academic context and beyond. Many people have been unwilling to speak out about recent cases where free expression have been violated — from the cancelling of speaking events to the "resignation" of Andrew Potter as the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, to this most recent case - precisely because they did not like what was said, what was going to be said or unfortunately, more often is the case of a complete misunderstanding of what is being said or discussed due to the fear mongering of university faculty and some professors.
There is also a pervasive sense that free speech is now contrary to equality and the dignity of minorities, and so free expression, speech and assembly must be limited, even (or especially) at universities in order to prevent marginalized people from harm. Pitting these values in competition is misguided. Even in the case of Peterson, who has vowed not to be compelled into using the preferred non-binary pronouns of trans students, there are a set of fundamentally important issues with which society and policymakers need to discuss.
Among them: what role should the state play in combating discrimination? racial, gendered, sexual etc. should policies or laws be in place to prevent certain forms of speech, or to compel speech, in order to ensure equality? Who gets to decide?
Full interview - approx 40 mins.
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