Queen’s has been thrown into the spotlight not only in Canada, but by numerous media outlets in the United States as well after the initiation of the Intergroup Dialogue program by the office of the Dean of Student Affairs. A story appeared in Wednesday’s edition of the Globe and Mail, alongside an article about Principal Tom Williams’ decision to cancel fall Homecoming. Various national and community newspapers and radio stations picked up the story. The overwhelming majority of responses, including those in the comments section of online newspapers, have been negative, calling the facilitators “thought police” and the program “fascist.”
Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said both the intentions and the practices of the program have been grossly misinterpreted.
“I’m actually very troubled by it. If you look at the guidelines for the program, if you look at the training manual, there’s nothing in it that contains any of that material. Nothing about free speech.”
He said concerns and criticism are welcome but people should fully inform themselves of the aims and precepts of the program before making such exaggerated claims.
“Any limitation on freedom of speech is valid and if people are concerned they should articulate that.” He said the role of the facilitators is similar to that of a peer counselor.
“They’re trained unequivocally to act as facilitators, not as thought police,” he said. “I am troubled by the speed with which people have jumped to the conclusion that we are policing thought.”
The Globe and Mail wrote about the program in yesterday’s editorial, calling facilitators “spies,” saying “The nanny state has hired the KGB” and alluding to the Gulag.
“I have written a response to the Globe and Mail because I thought the editorial was scurrilous,” Deane said.
Look for the letter in today’s edition.
The program is designed as a one-year pilot, Deane said, with evaluation methods built-in at the end of that year to decide whether to continue it and, if so, what changes need to be made. He said it’s a small contribution to the exploration and treatment of issues brought up by the Henry Report and discussed at senate meetings.
Deane said it’s the University’s responsibility to build a tolerant and inclusive environment even more than it is the responsibility of non-students.
“In the University, we have to be better than society at large in providing a venue for people who are most vulnerable as well as those who align themselves with the broader majority opinion.”
He said this program isn’t any more restricting than in-class discussion protocol.
“Discussion in an academic course needs to be civil and regulated. I don’t see why the discussion of this outside the classroom should be any less civil,” he said. “I think it’s important for everyone to keep this initiative in perspective and focus on what really happens instead of what they believe might happen.”
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