By Stephen D’Arcy, We demand free speech at Western University, Sunday, April 14, 2012
The City of London Ontario certainly benefits in innumerable ways from the presence of a major research university in this city. But the benefits flow in both directions. Western University needs Londoners as much as London needs Western.
In particular, the city and the university enjoy the benefits of a vigorous public sphere that stretches across the boundaries of Western’s campus to encompass the whole city.
At its best, this public sphere draws students, staff and faculty from the university, as well as citizens, activists, elected officials and advocacy groups from across London, into discussion about public policy, social justice and the common good. The voices of researchers, advocates, journalists, social critics and concerned citizens mingle in reasoned discussion that form the basis for democratic civic life.
We ought to be alarmed, therefore, when we see the university taking steps to target Londoners who visit the campus to contribute to public dialogue. Recently, Western issued an order prohibiting two London community activists from setting foot on any part of the university campus (Occupy architect battles campus ban, April 9).
Why would the university, through its campus community police service, choose to target activists from the wider city in this way? One might imagine these activists had engaged in some sort of violent or disruptive protest, hindering the capacity of the university to carry out its mission. In fact, they participated in a protest that was neither violent nor disruptive. Instead, it was a silent vigil, in which advocates for Palestinian human rights covered their mouths with tape, in a peaceful and non-confrontational protest during an Israel Day event taking place at Western. Continue reading