Why we can't censor controversial viewpoints

Universities serve to challenge our viewpoints, our ideas and our potential to learn and evolve. But when they censor individual viewpoints, they create an even bigger issue.
 
Jordan Peterson, a University of Toronto professor and clinical psychologist, rose to infamy last year when he posted a YouTube video speaking out against a university policy requiring him to call students by their preferred pronouns. 
 
Although Peterson stirred up a lot of controversy with his highly contentious views, he should still be allowed to express them. An attempt to remove him from a university rector ballot or ban his ideas from classrooms sends a dangerous message about academic freedom. 
 
On Nov. 1, Lindsay Sheperd, a first-year communications teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University, showed a clip of Peterson debating the use of gender-neutral pronouns with another professor. Sheperd was subsequently disciplined by two professors and a University official who charged her with creating a toxic environment and being transphobic because she didn’t denounce Peterson’s views after showing them.
 
Laurier changed their position when the University’s President and Vice-Chancellor reviewed the transcript of the conversation. Sheperd has since received an apology, but this hardly reconciles the issue.
 
In spite of some quick backtracking on Laurier’s part, universities are struggling to accept exposure to controversial viewpoints as healthy and essential to an academic environment. 
 
In the conversation about free speech and anti-discrimination, Peterson plays a very important role. He forces the conversation to be an open one with two sides, neither of which are immune to criticism. If universities shut down debates about policy before they even begin, how can we expect to evolve as a society?
 
My personal values align more with the very students who petition for Peterson to be disciplined. That being said, I think there’s something regressive about universities deciding what’s unchallengeable, unmentionable and not up for discussion. 
 
While the world of academia will perhaps move on without him, Peterson is well within his rights as a professor to express his distaste of gender-neutral pronouns. Silencing him sends a dangerous message about academic freedom, critical thinking and the tolerance of contentious viewpoints. 
 
Instead of disciplining instructors for bringing up controversial topics, universities owe it to students to support the pursuit of challenging ideas and gaining knowledge of ranging viewpoints.
 
Alex is one of The Journal’s Features Editors. She’s a fourth-year Biochemistry major. 

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